Q. My wife and I operated a 24-hour grocery and restaurant until recently when we were robbed by three armed men. They were caught and are in jail. Unfortunately we were injured and had to close the business. Friends suggest we probably qualify for a special state fund that gives financial help to crime victims. We’ve never heard of it. Details please?
Your friends are correct. Florida and all other states, plus D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, now have crime victim compensation laws that implement programs providing financial assistance for qualifying injured claimants. (See www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc for a state-by-state resource map).
These laws have an interesting history. For many years crime victims had no legal right to compensation for their injuries unless they successfully sued for their money damages in a court of law. Plaintiffs were faced with the many risks of litigation — excessive time, expense, stress and uncertainty. Even if they won, they had to collect their judgment from the available assets of the defendants.
Crime victims felt betrayed by a criminal justice system that seemed to ignore their financial needs. They often refused to cooperate with prosecutors. In the 1970s and 1980s, states responded to the growing “victim’s rights movement” by passing compensation laws. The U.S. Congress passed The Victims of Crime Act of 1984, creating a federal victims compensation account funded by federal criminal fines.
The victim compensation programs cover unreimbursed funeral costs, medical expenses, trauma counseling, loss of income, and related items up to stated maximum limits. They also require victims: 1) be innocent of misconduct, 2) report crimes promptly, 3) cooperate with police, and 4) file timely claims.
Our 1977 Statute Chapter 960, titled the “Florida Crimes Compensation Act” is typical. Its declaration of legislative intent was to assist innocent victims of adult and juvenile crimes, or those who were injured in their efforts to prevent them or apprehend the guilty parties.
Innocent victims, interveners, family survivors and dependents are eligible.
A crime must have been committed that directly results in “personal injury to, psychiatric or psychological injury to, or death of, the victim or intervener.” The crime must be reported to police within 72 hours, and a compensation claim must be filed within one year with the Attorney General’s Department of Legal Affairs.
Maximum claim compensation is $25,000, unless the victim suffers catastrophic injuries, in which case it increases to $50,000. In cases of hardship, filing time can be extended to two years, and emergency awards up to $1,000 can be made.
How does the legal defense of insanity work?
Q. Some kids stole our car, took it for a high speed joy ride on I-95, and were arrested by FHP after they crashed into a guard rail. At the arraignment they claimed they had been high on drugs and pled not guilty by reason of insanity. This sounds ridiculous. What are the legal requirements for the insanity defense?
The insanity defense claims defendants who are insane at the time of alleged offenses lack required criminal intent for a conviction. A verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity results in mental health facility treatment until release, rather than incarceration.
The defense is controversial, and the rules for its legal usage vary from state to state.
(1) The M’Naghten Rule (26 states including Florida) is commonly known as the “right vs. wrong” test. It is strict, based on the fact that “every man is presumed to be sane.” Most defendants have the burden of proving they didn’t know what they were doing was wrong.
(2) The Irresistible Impulse Test (rarely used now) was a response to criticism that the M’Naghten Rule was too strict. If defendant would have committed the crime even if there was “a policeman at his elbow” he must have been acting under an irresistible impulse.
(3) The Durham Rule (only in New Hampshire) expanded psychological evaluation by adding “diminished capacity” to the insanity defense. Defendant was not guilty if his unlawful act was the product of a mental disease or defect.
(4) The ALI Model Penal Code (19 states) combines the other tests. Defendant isn’t responsible for a crime if “at the time of such conduct as a result of a mental disease or defect, he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.”
(5) The current trend: The insanity defense acquittal of John Hinckley’s attempted assassination of President Reagan so outraged the public it started a backlash where the defense was legally abolished in Idaho, Kansas, Montana and Utah. It led to the Federal Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984. States also toughened insanity defense laws by re-emphasizing the M’Nagthen rule, shifting the sanity burden of proof, adopting “guilty but mentally ill” defenses, and restricting institutional commitment and release procedures.
Ask Doctor Law appears the first Monday of the month in Business Monday. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Martin E. Segal, a licensed attorney, lectures in business law at the University of Miami School of Business Administration.
Disclaimer: This column is not intended to solicit legal business or furnish self-help legal advice. Laws vary from state to state. Readers are strongly urged to consult independent and qualified legal professionals before making any business decisions. The views expressed are those of the writer and not of The Miami Herald.