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The Legal Insanity Defense in New Jersey

by | Nov 27, 2023

There are plenty of naysayers out there relative to the insanity or temporary insanity defense, but thankfully, in New Jersey, our courts do recognize the so-called M’Naghten insanity defense (or M’Naghten rule), and the defendant may be found “not guilty by reason of insanity” for even the most serious crimes contained in the State’s criminal code. Of course, an insanity defense does not mean that the defendant is innocent and/or did not commit a crime, but rather, due to “disease of the mind”, they are not criminally responsible. 

The insanity defense is classified as an affirmative defense, as opposed to a partial defense, and the initial burden of proof is on the defendant to prove the same by a preponderance of the evidence … which is the standard in civil cases. However, even if prosecutors have proven all the elements of the crime(s) charges, e.g., murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault, weapons offenses, etc., in addition to the defendant’s participation therein beyond a reasonable doubt, a judge or jury may return a verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity” IF the defendant has established the defense of insanity by a preponderance of evidence. 

Successfully proving insanity requires that the defendant show that a disease of the mind (a diagnosed psychiatric condition of severity) existed at the time the crime occurred. Secondly, a defendant must show due to the disease of the mind, that either (1) they did not know the nature and quality of their actions or (2) they understood the consequences of their actions, but did not know what they were doing was wrong. 

My law firm was very successful recently in representing an IT executive in a so-called insanity case. Understanding the hurdles when asserting an insanity defense in court, a competent, experienced criminal defense attorney will have their forensic psychiatric experts conduct a sanity evaluation after being assured of the client’s mental competency. Like anything else nowadays, forensic experts, in these types of cases, cost a lot of money. Moreover, the probative value of a psychiatrist’s opinion before a judge or jury will depend on their qualifications and skill, as well as the information they have obtained from the defendant over time in a custodial setting.  

Finally, here, a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity does not necessarily mean that the defendant will be immediately freed, or that the individual will be indefinitely committed to a mental institution.  If a judge or jury finds the defendant not guilty by reason of insanity, it will then be for the court to conduct a further hearing and among other matters, determine whether or not the defendant’s insanity continues to the present and whether the defendant poses a danger to the community or to himself. 

I cordially invite any and all prospective clients or their loved ones to immediately contact me concerning a legal insanity defense as the New Jersey Superior Courts require filed notice of such a defense and need to be thoroughly investigated. It is further important to distinguish the insanity defense, where the burden is on the defendant, from the use of evidence of mental disease to negate the element of a crime.  

Steven F. Wukovits is a certified criminal trial attorney and NJ Super Lawyer at Triarsi, Betancourt, Wukovits & Dugan, LLC. If you or a loved one were arrested and/or charged with a crime and have questions regarding your rights, please immediately contact Steven F. Wukovits at (908) 709-1700, on his cellular phone at (973) 722-7348, or by email

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