Not Criminally Responsible Due to Mental Disorder | Legal News

The case of Carl Girouard from Quebec made headlines. The 26-year-old admits to killing two people with a sword. But he claims he cannot be held criminally responsible due to a mental disorder. What does it mean?

Not criminally responsible

Our criminal law assumes that people have full mental capacity and can be held responsible for crimes.

But people can be found not responsible for crimes if they are mentally ill when they commit the crime. A mental disorder is a state of mind that affects reasoning and is not caused by alcohol or drugs. The disorder must prevent the person from

  • understand the nature of their actions, or
  • knowing they did something wrong.

When we say people don’t understand their actions, we mean this: they don’t know what they are doing or don’t understand the impact of their actions. An example would be a person who strangles someone without understanding that it could lead to death.

When we say that people don’t know their actions are wrong, it’s important to distinguish between a “wrongdoing” and an “illegal act.” People can be found not criminally responsible when they don’t realize the act is wrong, even though they know it’s illegal. An example is when someone kills because they believe the other person is a dangerous serial killer. The killer knows the act is illegal but thinks it’s the right thing to do given his mental state.

There are still consequences

Persons found not criminally responsible for crimes are not guilty.

But there are still consequences. The court must make one of these decisions:

  1. release the person without restriction
  2. release the person but with rules to respect
  3. order the person to be hospitalized

The court can also let a kind of tribunal called a “board of review” make the decision. The Board is also responsible for reviewing the person’s situation over time to see if they still pose a danger to public safety.

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