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Interviews with news makers and discussion of topics important to Southwest Michigan. Subscribe to the podcast through Apple itunes and Google. Segments of interview are heard in WestSouthwest Brief during Morning Edition and All Things Considered

WSW: The Criminal Justice System And Mental Capacity

Accused shooter Jason Dalton - file photo Robbie Feinberg/WMUK
Robbie Feinberg

Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School Professor Tonya Krause-Phelan says it’s not uncommon for someone to plead insanity. But she says it’s rare for a jury return a verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity.” 

Jason Dalton has been bound over for trial on charges of killing six people and severely wounded two others in a February shooting spree in Kalamazoo. Krause-Phelan who has also worked as a defense attorney joined us to discuss how the insanity defense works in Michigan.

Krause-Phelan says society has always been hesitant to prosecute and punish the young and the mentally ill. She says our criminal system defines crime as a guilty act and a guilty state of mind.

Dalton has been found competent to stand trial. But Krause-Phelan says competency is a procedural matter, while insanity is a legal defense. She says competency is about whether the defendant can participate in their case. Do they understand charges? Can they communicate with their lawyer? Krause-Phelan sys if someone is found not competent to stand trial, the trial cannot go forward.

Krause-Phelan says the insanity defense is about the defendant’s state of mind at the time of the offense. A history of mental illness can be considered. She says there will also be a diagnosis by a mental health professional. Krause-Phelan says actions at the time and shortly before the crime can also be considered.

But the insanity defense is not really a way to walk free, according to Krause-Phelan. She says a verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity” means that person falls under the control of the mental health system. A defendant can be found guilty, but mentally ill. But Krause-Phelan says it’s not really a defense. She says it’s a flag that tells the state that the defendant should receive treatment for mental illness while they serve their sentence.

Gordon Evans became WMUK's Content Director in 2019 after more than 20 years as an anchor, host and reporter. A 1990 graduate of Michigan State, he began work at WMUK in 1996.
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