One of the more difficult defenses to establish in Michigan is the insanity defense. To prove legal insanity the Defense must prove by a preponderance of the evidence (show that it is more probable than not true) that the Defendant was, at the time of the alleged offense, legally mentally ill and either lacked the substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his or her conduct or unable to conform his or her behavior to the law (legal insanity 2 prong test).
Even though a preponderance of the evidence is not a high burden, juries do not like this defense. Many people feel that each of us are responsible for our own actions, and there is a fear that the Defendant will not be held responsible or accountable for his or her actions. One of the instructions of the court for a jury instruction is that lawyers and the Court cannot tell the jury what the possible penalty is for a crime, and a jury might have a mistaken assumption that if a verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity” (also referred to as NGRI) is reached the Defendant will face no penalty because he or she was acquitted. There is a fear by juries that the Defendant might pose a danger to the community (especially for a violent crime) and could harm another person without a finding of guilt.
Unfortunately a jury is not told that if a Defendant is found to be “not guilty by reason of insanity”, the Defendant is committed to the Center for Forensic Psychiatry for an initial period of 60 days during which time the Defendant is examined and evaluated regarding his or her mental health condition. The Center for Forensic Psychiatry has the option to find that no further treatment is needed, which is not a common result. The more likely result is that a psychiatrist and another medical doctor will determine that further treatment is necessary, and a petition is filed with a probate court to order further in patient treatment.