Guilty Except For Insanity in Oregon

If you’ve read any true-crime stories, watched a season or two of Law and Order, or watched any movies featuring courtroom drama based on crime, you’ve probably heard of the “insanity defense.” The insanity defense refers to a defense that someone accused of a crime may assert in a criminal trial, which allows the accused to admit that they did what they were accused of, but that there was a lack of culpability based on a mental illness or disorder. In layman’s terms, “I physically did what you accused me of, but I was crazy or wasn’t in my right frame of mind due to mental illness, and therefore shouldn’t be criminally responsible.”

In Oregon, Guilty Except For Insanity is an affirmative defense– meaning the defense must raise it, and prove it. Typically, a criminal defense attorney would offer evidence of a mental health evaluation of their client (the accused), in order to show that the accused was suffering from a mental illness or disorder at the time the crime allegedly occurred, and therefore the accused lacked the necessary criminal intent to make the accused legally responsible for whatever crime committed. The most common mental states in Oregon are: intentional, knowing, and reckless.

Guilty Except For Insanity in Oregon

How are Insanity or Qualifying Mental Disorders Defined?

Many people of course use the word “insane” when discussing the “insanity defense,” but it is not a requirement in Oregon that someone accused of a crime actually be “insane” in order to use a qualifying mental disorder in their defense. In fact, the used of the word “insane” will probably fade away over time, much in the same way people are no longer comfortable throwing around the word “retarded” to described people with an Intellectual disability (ID).

ORS 161.295 Qualifying Mental Disorder

(1) A person is guilty except for insanity if, as a result of a qualifying mental disorder at the time of engaging in criminal conduct, the person lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality of the conduct or to conform the conduct to the requirements of law (emphasis added).
(2) As used in chapter 743, Oregon Laws 1971, the term “qualifying mental disorder” does not include an abnormality manifested only by repeated criminal or otherwise antisocial conduct, nor does the term include any abnormality constituting solely a personality disorder.

ORS 161.300 Admissibility of Evidence of Qualifying Mental Disorder

Evidence that the actor suffered from a qualifying mental disorder is admissible whenever it is relevant to the issue of whether the actor did or did not have the intent which is an element of the crime.

ORS 161.305 Qualifying Mental Disorder; Affirmative Defense

Qualifying mental disorder constituting insanity under ORS 161.295 is an affirmative defense.

What Happens if the Accused is Found to be Insane at Trial?

If the accused is found at trial to by physically responsible for a given action, event, or omission– and if they are found to have been suffering from insanity or a qualifying mental disorder– then they may be found to be guilty except for insanity. In such cases, they would not be sent to prison or jail, but rather would be sent to a mental hospital or care facility under the direction of the Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board or the Oregon Health Authority. They would then receive services to attempt to eliminate or reduce the mental disorder.

Mental Health Is A Complex Area of Oregon Law

The Oregon statutes and laws on insanity changed substantially in the summer of 2019. This continues to be a developing area of the law. If you or someone you know is facing a criminal charge– and if a mental illness or mental disorder may have played a role– call to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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