On January 24, 2023, Lindsay Clancy from Duxbury Massachusetts sent her husband Patrick Clancy to pick up medication and food. While he was gone, Lindsay strangled their 3 children, her 5 year old daughter Cora, her 3 year old son Dawson, and her 7 month old son, Callan with exercise bands, and then jumped out a second floor window in an attempt to commit suicide. All three of her children were rushed to the hospital where Cora and Dawson were pronounced dead. Callan was taken to Boston Children's Hospital.
Lindsay's attorney appeared to lay the foundation for a lack of criminal responsibility defense in her case. He told the Boston Globe that Lindsay killed her three children and attempted to commit suicide due to the effects of being severely overmedicated on prescription drugs. Lindsay Clancy was allegedly prescribed drugs for mood disorders, anxiety, and psychosis, which caused homicidal and suicidal ideation. Her attorney claimed that Lindsay and her husband repeatedly sought medical help because the medications were leading to making Lindsay feel like a "zombie." It is believed that Lindsay was suffering from postpartum mood disorder when she committed the murders.
In this blog post, I will explain what a lack of criminal responsibility is, what it means to assert a defense of lack of criminal responsibility in the Massachusetts court system, as well as the successes and failures of this defense. I will also discuss how the Lindsay Clancy case might be impacted by a lack of criminal responsibility defense, as well as what it could mean for people in similar situations going forward.
Lack of Criminal Responsibility
The success rate for this defense is mixed. In some cases, the court may find that a defendant is not criminally responsible for their actions due to an underlying mental illness or disability. In other cases, however, the defense may fail because the defendant does not meet the criteria for impairment of either their appreciation for wrongfulness or capacity to control their behavior.
In the case of Lindsay Clancy, it is possible that her attorney will argue a lack of criminal responsibility defense. It is unclear at this point whether the court will accept it, as it is difficult to predict how mental health evaluations and testimony from witnesses may sway a verdict. Nonetheless, if Lindsay Clancy's case does set precedent for future cases involving postpartum mood disorder, then her case could have far-reaching implications for how other similar cases are handled by the Massachusetts court system.
Lack of criminal responsibility and the law
In the eyes of the law, not everyone who commits a crime is criminally responsible. A lack of criminal responsibility is a legal defense that argues that an individual should not be held criminally liable for their actions because they were not of sound mind at the time of the offense. This defense is typically applied in cases where a defendant suffers from some form of mental illness or disability which affects their ability to understand and control their actions. In the Massachusetts court system, this defense must meet one of two tests: (1) that the defendant's mental health condition significantly impaired his or her ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his or her conduct; and (2) that, as a result of his or her mental health condition, the defendant did not possess substantial capacity to conform their behavior to the requirements of law.
Generally, if a criminal defendant can prove they were unable to understand their criminal actions due to their mental disorder, they may be found not guilty. Common factors in determining criminal responsibility include foreseeing the injury caused by the criminal act and understanding what is right and wrong according to legal standards. As this standard continues to evolve over time, courts must take into consideration the impact that mental health can have on criminal responsibility for defendants across the country.
How the 'insanity defense' is used in Massachusetts court cases
In court cases involving the 'insanity defense', in Massachusetts, a prosecutor has to prove that a defendant had criminal responsibility when the alleged offense was committed. This means they must show that the person knew what they were doing, and was aware of how it would affect others. The defense may present evidence that the defendant lacked this criminal responsibility due to mental illness or impaired judgment. It is then up to the prosecution to disprove this argument with their own evidence, essentially reversing the burden-of-proof. Ultimately, if the judge or jury believes that the mental state of defendant had no bearing on their actions at the time of offence, they can render a guilty verdict regardless of any insanity defense presented.
Already we've seen the prosecution in this case begin to demonstrate how they intend to prove that Lindsay was not insane at the time she committed the murders of her three children. At the arraignment on February 7, 2023, the Assistant District Attorney laid out a timeline of events leading up to the murders. There she suggested that Lindsay had planned it all, from taking her daughter Cora to the pediatrician for an appointment that morning without any signs of mental issues having to do with her behavior, to building a snowman and sending photos to her mother and husband. Later in the day, Lindsay looked up directions to the nearby restaurant ThreeV in Plymouth Massachusetts, allegedly to determine how long someone would be gone if she sent them for takeout. Around 4:55 p.m., Lindsay texted her husband, who was working in his home office in the basement, and asked if he would like to get food from the Plymouth restaurant. "This was an unusual request as when the family ordered takeout they usually go somewhere close to their home," the prosecutor noted. "But it was a place that they had been in the past."
While at the store, Lindsay's husband Patrick called his wife, but she didn't answer. She called him back a minute later. "He had no issues communicating with her, it was a completely normal call," the prosecutor said. "Although, he did mention that she seemed like she was in the middle of something."
"When he arrived home, the first thing he noticed was the silence," the prosecuter told the Court. He began looking for his wife, calling her on the phone, but there was no answer. Shortly thereafter, he discovered his wife lying on the ground outside her second story bedroom window with cuts on her wrist and neck in an apparent suicide attempt. He called 911. He could be heard on the call asking where the kids were. His wife replied, "in the basement," Once emergency personnel arrived, he went to the basement to find his children, where "He can then be heard screaming in agony, in shock, as he found his children," The prosecuter stated.
The different types of mental illness that can lead to a finding of 'not guilty by reason of insanity'
Mental illness can take many forms and can range from moderate to severe. When it reaches a certain point, it can impede an individual's ability to discern right from wrong or to control their actions in criminal matters. When this occurs, the defense of 'not guilty by reason of insanity' (NGRI) may be invoked. Such mental illnesses may include schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), pathological intoxication, delusional disorder and others. Each of these mental illnesses and others have been used as NGRI defenses with varying levels of success depending on the nature of the crime and associated facts and circumstances surrounding the event in question. It is important for individuals facing criminal prosecution who suffer from mental illness to consult with qualified legal counsel regarding potential NGRI defenses that might be available to them under those circumstances.
The controversy surrounding the use of the 'insanity defense'
The use of the 'insanity defense' in criminal cases is a controversial topic due to questions surrounding the legal definition of insanity, who gets to decide if an individual is insane, and whether or not it should exist as an option in the first place. Underlying this debate is the tension between respect for defendants' autonomy and protecting society from harm that can be caused by those with mental illnesses. In some jurisdictions where the insanity defense has been abolished, other mechanisms take its place as legal defenses such as impairments of responsibility or diminished capacities related to mental illness. It is important to continuously assess these defenses and their impact on public safety.
What happens to people who are found 'not guilty by reason of insanity'
When a person is found 'not guilty by reason of insanity', the legal system no longer views them as responsible for criminal activities for which they were accused. This determination does not mean that a defendant walks away without any consequence; instead, they are usually transferred to a mental health facility with specialized care professionals to determine whether or not they pose an immediate threat to themselves or others. Depending on the evaluation and further input from judges, doctors, and other experts, they may be incarcerated long term while receiving treatment or moved into community settings if deemed safe. An agreement between the court and patient must often be reached upon their reentry into society that ensures they continue to receive mental health services in order to reduce the likelihood of recidivism.
The use of the 'not guilty by reason of insanity' defense has been a long-standing debate in criminal cases due to its complexity and controversy. This plea may be invoked in certain circumstances when an individual is deemed unable to understand the wrongfulness of their actions or control them due to mental illness. While not always successful, it can result in the transfer of a defendant to mental health facilities in order to receive specialized care and treatment.
In over 30 years of criminal defense work, my office has successfully handled many cases where criminal responsibility has been in question due to mental illness. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Massachusetts, call me at (978) 744-1220 or fill out our contact form, and I will sit down with you for a free case evaluation consultation. I will read the police report and get your side of the story and give you my opinion as to what your best course of action is and how your case is likely to fare in court. If retained, my team will immediately go to work developing a legal strategy to aggressively defend your case.