Can a NJ Defendant Claim Insanity for a DWI?
A driving while intoxicated (DWI) charge can lead to some severe penalties in the state of New Jersey. As such, many defendants and defense attorneys have pursued a variety of defenses when facing a DWI criminal charge. One of the potential defenses for any crime is the insanity defense, or whether or not a defendant was incapable of understanding the wrongful nature of their conduct at the time of the crime.
In New Jersey, insanity is a common-law affirmative defense. When a defendant raises a defense, it is usually up to the prosecutor to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; however, an insanity defense partially shifts the burden to the defendant, who must prove he or she is legitimately insane.
State law uses the M’Naghten rule to identify what a defendant must prove in court if using an insanity defense. The rule comes from an 1843 case in England in which the defendant killed the British prime minister’s secretary, suffering from paranoid delusions of conspiracy. Under this rule, everyone is presumed to be sane unless they can prove that, at the time of the crime, they suffered from a defect of reason or disease of the mind. This defect must have kept them from “knowing the nature and quality of their actions.” In other words, someone using the insanity defense must prove that they were incapable of truly knowing what they were doing was wrong.
By design, this defense is difficult to prove. In one case, a man was arrested and charged with a DWI after his car collided with a toll booth on the New Jersey Turnpike. His blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.40%, close to a fatal level. At trial, the defendant raised the insanity defense and offered evidence that he suffered from bipolar disorder. According to him, his depression and suicidal thoughts contributed to the near-fatal amount of alcohol he consumed in addition to his decision to get behind the wheel. The court ruled that the state laws on DWI intended the crime to be a “per se offense,” meaning the guilt is based only on the evidence of intoxication or impairment, rather than the driver’s state of mind. Based on this conclusion, he was unable to use the insanity defense.
Because DWI law are so worded, it’s unlikely that a defendant will be able to use insanity as a defense when facing a DWI charge. To discuss the specifics of your DWI case, talk to one of our skilled Bergen County DWI attorneys today. Brickfield & Donahue have decades of criminal defense experience to offer your case, and our highly rated attorneys are dedicated to defending the rights and freedoms of the people we help. Let us see what we can do for you.
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