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A closer look at the insanity defense in Colorado

On Behalf of | Oct 6, 2022 | Blog, Criminal Defense |

In Colorado, even if you committed a crime, the judge can give the verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. In other cases, the court might alter the sentencing if you can prove that you were mentally impaired while committing the crime.

The meaning of insanity in Colorado

To be found not guilty by reason of insanity, you must have been so mentally ill at the time of the crime that you couldn’t tell right from wrong. The court could also allow this defense if the defendant could argue that they knew their behavior was criminal, but they lacked the capacity to control it. This is called irresistible impulse.

The burden of proof is on the defense

For this defense to be successful, the defendant and their criminal defense team have to prove, without a doubt, that mental impairment led to the crime. This can be done through a mental health evaluation from a psychologist or psychiatrist. The prosecution can also order their own mental health evaluation. If both sides agree on the outcome of the assessments, the case might not even go to trial.

How courts test for legal insanity

The first approach is called general mental illness, which is a broad category that includes things like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression. If you have a general mental illness, the court will consider whether or not your delusions or hallucinations stopped you from knowing that your actions were wrong.

The second type of mental illness is specific intent crimes. These are crimes where there’s a clear intent to do harm, like murder or arson. The court will look at whether or not the defendant had the specific intent to commit the crime, even if they knew it was wrong. If they find that the defendant didn’t have the specific intent to commit the crime, they may rule them not guilty by reason of insanity.

After a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, the court will sometimes send the defendant to the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (CMHIP) for evaluation. The doctors at CMHIP will then determine whether or not the defendant is a danger to themselves or others and if they need to be committed to a mental health facility.