The film and television industry misrepresents the insanity defense, making it seem easy to beat charges for committing a violent offense. In real life, it is extremely hard to win a trial based on the insanity of a defendant.

However, some people need an insanity defense because they were not in a healthy mental state when the alleged offense occurred.

What mental conditions can result in violent crimes?

For an insanity defense to prove effective, the defendant must show they did not understand right from wrong. Most people with mental conditions such as anxiety or depression know when they are doing something wrong.

Impulse control disorders that may interfere with a person’s capacity to differentiate right from wrong or to control their behavior include:

  • Intermittent explosive disorder. Characteristics include angry and aggressive outbursts, assaults against people or animals, destructiveness, etc.
  • Oppositional defiant disorder. Characteristics include defiance, anger, vindictiveness, aggression, etc.
  • Conduct disorder. Characteristics include aggression toward people or animals, deceitfulness, destructiveness, cruelty, etc.

The difference between common conditions (depression, etc.) and disorders involving a lack of impulse control is who they affect. Illnesses like anxiety, for instance, cause patients to internalize their feelings or impulses, meaning that no other person suffers physical harm.

Patients with poor control tend to externalize

Those with poor impulse control generally externalize their feelings and impulses, effectively disassociating themselves from their own conduct. In other words, instead of targeting themselves, they may lash out at objects or living beings, sometimes violently. Impulse disorders often lead to kleptomania and pyromania in affected patients as well.

If you or a loved one with an impulse disorder is facing criminal charges (especially for violent offenses), speak with a law professional about the condition. In the hands of a skilled advocate, the insanity defense may minimize the legal consequences associated with violent crimes.