Can COVID-19 Vaccine Conspiracy Theories Form an Insanity Defense to Criminal Acts?
Steven Brandenburg is currently held in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin jail for intentionally spoiling almost 600 vials of COVID-19 vaccines. Brandenburg was a pharmacist at a Grafton clinic. Brandenburg told investigators that he believed the vaccine was not safe for people and would “harm them and change their DNA” and is an “admitted conspiracy theorist.” Medical professionals have continually debuted the theory that the mRNA COVID vaccines alter a person’s DNA. Brandenburg has no prior criminal record.
Brandenburg was arrested on Dec. 31, 2020, on charges for first degree recklessly endangering safety, adulterating a prescription drug, and criminal damage to property. Police claim that Brandenburg removed the box containing the vaccine from a refrigerator and let it out for 12 hours, rendering it useless. 57 people did receive the vaccine after it was left out but there is believed to be no health harm.
The court ordered Brandenburg’s release on a $10,000 bond on the conditions that he surrender any firearms, not work in healthcare, not leave Wisconsin, and have no contact with any of his former co-workers. Brandenburg has been charged with a Class F felony that carries a potential penalty of 12.5 years. There is some dispute as to whether the vaccines are now legally destroyed; the District Attorney concedes that if the vaccines are not destroyed then Brandenburg would face a misdemeanor charge instead of a felony.
Is the Insanity Defense Applicable if a Defendant Believes in Conspiracy Theories?
The insanity defense is a difficult defense in most states to assert. The states have an interest in ensuring that not every defendant can escape justice by pleading they were out of their mind. Wisconsin requires that defendants both agree that they have a mental delusion and have a doctor agree after a mental health exam. However, even having a doctor certify that he is insane would not be enough. The prosecution would still argue that he knew what was legal and what was not legal even if he held beliefs that lead him to take actions that he believed were morally justified. Moreover, there are channels for raising complaints – destroying vaccines is not a justifiable way to address such concerns.
However, this would be the first time that a state would recognize the QAnon conspiracy theories as a collective delusion. This argument might be more persuasive after extremist Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in D.C. to delay the certification of the 2020 elections. However, the law would still be recognizing a political belief as the basis for an insanity plea in a criminal trial. If there are any criminal prosecutions of the participants of the Capitol siege on January 6, 2021, many of them may assert the insanity at their own trials.
Do I Need an Attorney’s Help?
If you are faced with criminal charges, a skilled criminal defense attorney can help you understand the defenses available to your case. An attorney can help you develop your defense and represent you during trial.