Attorney Keren Goldenberg’s client was found not guilty by reason of insanity yesterday. A year ago while Ms. Goldenberg was representing the same client on a separate case, she convinced a judge to suppress his confession to a life felony because it was involuntary due to his mental illness. That case got dismissed because the prosecutor could no longer prove its case without the confession. “It’s been a 3 year ordeal and I’m not celebrating the result because his situation is too sad to warrant such a response. But I’m very proud of the result,” said Ms. Goldenberg.
In Massachusetts a person is lacking in criminal responsibility (another name for “not guilty by reason of insanity”) if he has a “mental disease or defect,” and as a result of that condition either he: (i) is substantially unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of hisconduct, or he is substantially unable to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. Put otherwise, the defendant’s mental condition must have rendered him unable to realize that his behavior was wrong or was unable to make himself behave lawfully.
Criminal responsibility is separate and apart from the issue of competence to stand trial and the two legal issues are often confused. Whether an individual is competent to face his charges rests on whether he presently is able to consult with his lawyer with reasonable understanding of the proceedings against him. When evaluating a question of criminal responsibility, one looks at the accused individual’s mental state at the time that he committed the offense. The question of competency focuses on the individual’s present state and whether he can understand the legal proceedings regardless of his condition at the time of the offense. A person can start a case lacking competence, have competence restored with treatment and then may once again not be competent at a later time during the proceeding. Some individuals are charged with crimes and can never be found competent to face criminal charges.
Ms. Goldenberg’s client faced trial because he was competent but was found not guilty by reason of insanity due to his mental condition at the time of the alleged offense. In the other case, the client’s mental illness was so profound at the time that he confessed to the police that a judge threw out the confession because it was not made voluntarily.