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Can a defendant plead insanity in Louisiana?

The short answer to your question is yes. An insanity defense in the state of Louisiana falls under the M'Naghten Rule, which has been in place since the mid-1800s. Under this rule, the defendant has the burden of proof and must show that he or she was unable to tell the difference between right and wrong at the time the alleged crime was committed.

After hearing all of the testimony and viewing the evidence, the court must decide whether the defendant could distinguish between right and wrong. If this form of criminal defense is successful and the court delivers a "not guilty by reason of insanity" ruling, the defendant may escape some of the harshest penalties.

FindLaw's criminal section provides a few examples of how a criminal defense lawyer might use the M'Naughton Rule.

In one example, a man killed his family. Mental health experts gave testimony indicating that the defendant was too mentally ill to understand that what he had done was wrong. As such, he avoided prison and was required to spend 10 years in a mental health facility instead.

In another example, a schizophrenic woman was found not guilty by reason of insanity after attacking a neighbor whom she believed was a demon. The woman was able to demonstrate that she did not understand the nature of her actions, thereby avoiding severe penalties.

While insanity defenses can be successful, they are typically difficult to prove, especially for those without adequate legal representation. Even so, a defendant or a defendant's family should not hesitate to talk about the insanity option with a lawyer. This is particularly important if the defendant has a history of mental instability and can provide evidence to support an insanity plea.

Source: Frontline, "From Daniel M'Naughten to John Hinckley: A Brief History of the Insanity Defense," accessed Jan. 12, 2017

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