Michigan’s Insanity Defense and the Defense of Guilty But Mentally Ill

Michigan has two related but very different insanity type of defenses:  insanity (aka “not guilty by reason of insanity”) and “guilty but mentally ill”

In Michigan, when one wants to raise the insanity defense, one files a notice with the court and prosecutor, at least 30 days before trial, stating his/her intention to assert the defense of insanity at trial.  The court would then order the defendant to undergo an examination with the center for forensic psychiatry or other qualified personnel.  The defendant can be held in jail pending the trial and examination.  Jail is not, however, required.  The defendant must fully cooperate with the examination.  The statements made during the assessment are not admissible as evidence, but the report or conclusions are admissible.

The definition of “insanity” is when one suffers a mental disease or defect as set forth under the mental health code, and that person lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his or her conduct or to conform his or her conduct to the requirements of the law.

When one is acquitted (found not guilty by reason of insanity), the court immediately commits that person to the Center for Forensic Psychiatry for up to 60 days.  The Center will then “examine and evaluate” the mental condition of the individual.

The Center may opine that no treatment is necessary.  If it opines that treatment is necessary and that is agreed to by two physicians (1 of whom is a psychiatrist), the prosecutor may petition the court to order the person hospitalized.  If the Center opines that hospitalization is appropriate, it may retain the individual until the hearing is held on the matter.

One important issue about the “insanity defense” is that it is an affirmative defense under Michigan law.  This is a defense presented at trial, unless agreed to by the parties and joined in by the judge outside of trial and it results in an acquittal or “not guilty” verdict.   The defendant then follows the processes mentioned above.

The guilty but mentally ill is very different.  While the process and policies that produced it are confusing to explain, this is the left-over after Michigan abolished the “temporary insanity” type of defenses.  It is when a defendant presents the insanity defense, but the judge or jury still finds the person guilty.  It then determines if the defendant at least demonstrates that he/she was mentally ill at the time yet does not prove that he/she lacked the substantial capacity either to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his/her conduct or to conform his/her conduct to the requirement of the law.  Because the defendant is convicted, the court issues a sentence and then commits the defendant to the Michigan Department of Corrections for evaluation and given treatment psychiatrically indicated, which may involved prolonged hospitalization.  The person is then returned to MDOC to serve the rest of the sentence with credit for the time while under the treatment.