The use of insanity as a criminal defense is a popular topic for television shows and movies. However, the actual number of cases in which it has been used is fairly small, and the ultimate result of those cases is often conviction. However, there are rare cases in which insanity renders a person incapable of making rational decisions and causes him or her to commit violent crimes.

On Aug. 6, a Michigan man was declared not guilty by a Jackson County circuit judge by reason of insanity. The defendant admitted to doctors that he had killed his downstairs neighbor, beheaded the victim and then taken the head to his apartment. He continually claimed that it was a "heart decision" when asked for a reason for his actions.

Doctors concluded that the man suffers from a combination of paranoia and schizophrenia, causing the defendant to believe demons and spirits are out to kill him and destroy the world. Those beliefs apparently still persist, even during criminal court proceedings. Due to this situation, the defendant will be admitted to a mental healthcare facility.

Even when an insanity plea is successful, defendants who have killed a person are unlikely to ever be released back into the public. That will almost certainly be the case for the defendant in this particular trial.

Skilled defense attorneys know when to get a client checked for mental instability. Cases of true insanity are relatively rare, but it may be unfair to find a person legally guilty of certain actions when they were uncontrollable at the time.

Source: Michigan Live, "Insanity defense will keep Leo Kwaske locked away for beheading neighbor," Aaron Aupperlee, Aug. 6, 2012