He must have been crazy. What else can you say about a teenager who kills three of his classmates and injures three others in a hail of gunfire?
According to his lawyers, T.J. Lane intends to plead not guilty by reason of insanity in connection with the shootings at Lake Academy in Willoughby last February. Under Ohio law, however, insanity is an extremely hard defense to prove.
Ohio sets a very high standard called the M’naughton Rule for proving an insanity defense. The rule is named after a paranoid-schizophrenic British assassin who pleaded insanity in 1800’s. In that case, the English court ruled that a defendant was not guilty if:
- One, he was suffering from a severe mental defect or disease; and
- Two, as a result of the defect or disease, he not realize that his actions were wrong.
In Ohio, as in many other states, insanity is an affirmative defense. This means that Lane will have the burden of proving that he was insane at the time of the shootings. However, he will not have to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt; he will only have to prove that it is more likely than not.
So, what exactly will Lane have to prove?
Being “mentally impaired” is not enough to prove insanity. For example, a person who is extremely drunk or high on drugs may have no idea what he is doing. Nonetheless, this is not considered a severe mental defect or disease. Making a voluntary decision to use alcohol or drugs does not relieve a person of responsibility for his actions.
Also, even if a person has a severe mental illness, he is responsible for his criminal acts if he is still capable of realizing that his actions are wrong. Insanity defenses often fail because the evidence shows that the defendant knew he would get in trouble if he was caught.
The most obvious sign that a defendant knew he would get in trouble is that he attempted to conceal his actions, or attempted to conceal his identity. Obviously, a person who does not believe he is doing anything wrong has no need to hide.
However, the fact that the defendant did not attempt to hide is not evidence of insanity. In many cases, a shooter who opens fire in a public place is severely agitated or depressed. He knows he is committing a crime, but simply does not care if he is caught or killed.
It is also difficult for a defendant to convince a judge or jury that he was suffering from a severe mental defect or disease if the defendant participated in any of the “three P’s” - planning, preparation or practice. A person who is capable of rational thought is not generally thought of as being insane.
In T.J. Lane’s case, there is evidence that he planned and prepared for his shooting spree. Lane reportedly prepared for the shootings by stealing a handgun and a rifle from his uncle. He also allegedly planned the shootings by picking a spot, a bus stop, where he knew there would be multiple targets.
Finally, it will be hard for Lane to prove that he has a severe mental defect or disease, given the fact that he apparently has no history of treatment for mental illness. In most cases, a defendant who successfully pleads legal insanity has a well-documented record of treatment for a serious mental condition.
Under these circumstances, it is very unlikely that T.J. Lane will be found not guilty by reason of insanity. If he is, though, it is worth remembering that he still will not be set free. An insane defendant can be confined for treatment until he is no longer a danger to society.
How long does that take? Well, John Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity for shooting President Reagan in 1981. Hinckley is still confined to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., 31 years later.
Have a question or a suggestion for a topic? Email dspirgen@SpirgenLawFirm.com.
Patch posts are general discussions and should not be used as advice on any specific legal matter. If you need legal advice on a particular situation, please consult an attorney.