What is the Guilty Except Insane Defense in Arizona?

The guilty except insane defense in Arizona, also known as GEI, can be brought when the guilt of a defendant is not in doubt but his or her mental capacity is.

This affirmative defense allows the defendant to show the existence of a serious “mental disease or defect.” Not all mental disorders allow you to claim the GEI defense. Conditions such as withdrawal from alcohol or drugs, impulse control or psychosexual disorders do not constitute legal insanity.

Likewise, conditions like sudden loss of control, passion, moral decadence or depravity do not quality for GEI unless the defendant suffers from an underlying abnormality or a disease. The condition must be of such severity that the defendant was unaware the criminal act was wrong.

The guilty except insane defense
Arizona’s guilty except insane defense

The insanity defense is controversial in all jurisdictions. Many commentators believe the insanity defense excuses people who are blameworthy and deserve to be punished for their offenses.

Insanity defenses are derived from the M’Naghten rule which was developed in 19th Century England.

Daniel M’Naghten believed he was the target of a dark conspiracy involving the pope and British Prime Minister Robert Peel. In 1843, the woodworker traveled to 10 Downing Street to ambush the Prime Minister, but mistakenly shot and killed Peel’s secretary.

Several psychiatrists testified M’Naghten was delusional during the trial. The jury agreed, declaring M’Naghten not guilty by reason of insanity.

The case caused a public outcry. A year later, a panel of British judges outlined the legal standard that has been used subsequently in Britain and jurisdictions that followed the British model. The M’Naghten rule says a defendant may be acquitted of a crime if he or she labored “under such defect of reason from disease of the mind” as to not realize what they were doing or why it was a crime. It’s also known as the “right-wrong” test.

In Arizona, the seriousness of the alleged offense has a bearing on the way a GEI case will proceed.

In cases not involving a homicide, a death threat, or actual or threatened bodily harm, a defendant found guilty except insane will be committed to a state mental institution for 75 days. The court will initiate a hearing within 75 days of the date of commitment to establish if the defendant is entitled to be released from confinement, or if the accused meets the standards for civil commitment. The defendant is required to show that he or she no longer suffers from a mental disease or defect, and does not pose a danger. If the defendant or his attorney is unable to produce clear and convincing evidence, the defendant could be civilly committed.

In more serious cases involving death, or threatened death and bodily harm, the process is different. If the defendant raises the GEI defense, the court must initially establish if a reasonable basis exists to make the plea. A recent court ruling established criminal defendants who voluntarily undergo a mental health examination after claiming an insanity defense must provide the results of this examination to the prosecution in their case.

If the court is satisfied that there is a reasonable basis for the GEI plea, the court may appoint a qualified mental health expert to evaluate the accused. Alternatively, the court can order the defendant committed for up to 30 days to a secure state-run mental health facility for evaluation. In either instance, the defendant provides a copy of their report for the court, as well as to the State and the defense counsel.

If the defendant is found to be guilty except insane by a judge in a bench trial or a jury, the court is required to sentence the accused to a term of confinement equivalent to the time of the sentence imposed had they been found guilty. This term of confinement is calculated minus the addition of sentence enhancers like prior felonies.

The defendant in GEI cases is confined to a mental health facility rather than a state prison. The defendant will be reviewed by the Psychiatric Security Review Board or PSRB during that time.   If the review board finds the defendant restored to a mental state where they are safe to rejoin society, they may be released into the community subject to conditions. The PSRB continues to maintain jurisdiction over the individual for the term of confinement.

The insanity defense In Arizona is complicated. You should hire a criminal defense attorney with a long track record in this area. Call us for a consultation at (602) 340-1999