Mentally impaired defendants
A different process applies if the defendant says that:
- they are unfit to stand trial because of a current mental impairment, or
- they committed the crime but were insane at the time of the offence.
If a mentally impaired defendant is tried and convicted, they might be sent to hospital instead of prison. You may find this lenient but it is important to remember that these offenders are subject to very strict controls so that they don't become a danger to the public again.
What is mental impairment or insanity?
Mental impairment includes someone with a severe mental disorder or intellectual disability.
In rare situations, the judge might find that the defendant is not guilty by reason of insanity. This means that there is expert evidence that the defendant was legally insane when the offence was committed. The prosecution and defence lawyer must both agree to this.
How does the court treat mentally impaired defendants?
If the court decides that the defendant is unfit to stand trial, or that they're suffering from a mental impairment, or that they committed the crime but were insane at the time of the offence, it may order the defendant:
- be detained in a secure hospital facility
- receive treatment as a patient – this could be as an inpatient or on a community treatment order
- receive care as a care recipient – the defendant might be detained in a secure hospital facility for this.
The court may make one of these orders instead of sentencing the person.
Offenders who are sent to prison can be transferred to a secure hospital facility at any time during their sentence if needed. After treatment, they may be returned to prison to complete their sentence.
Get information about what happens to the defendant
Victims of serious offences are entitled to be receive information about the offender if they have been detained in a secure hospital facility. If you are registered on the Victim Notification Register, the Ministry of Health will notify you:
- of the offender's first unescorted leave of absence, including overnight leave
- if the offender escapes from the secure hospital facility or dies,
- of the offender’s permanent discharge or lapse of the offender's sentence.
Make sure you tell the officer in charge of your case or the Ministry of Health if your contact details have changed, and they will update them on the Victim Notification Register.
More information about mentally impaired defendants
- Victim Notification Guidelines (external link) (Ministry of Health) (PDF, 108KB)
- Mentally impaired defendents factsheet [PDF, 413 KB]
- Victims' Rights in the Health System [PDF, 300 KB]
- Contact the Office of the Director of Mental Health by calling the Ministry of Health on (04) 496 2000.