Criminal Insanity: Mental Illness & Criminal Prosecutions

Criminal Insanity: Mental Illness & Criminal Prosecutions

In working in criminal defense, the attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have assisted scores of clients suffering from all manner of mental illness. Our laws take into account the effects these ailments can have on a person, and there are legal mechanisms to protect the vulnerable, but these procedures are not always followed. It is common for the mentally ill to be prosecuted and even imprisoned despite safeguards to prevent such outcomes.

If you or someone you love lives with mental illness and has been accused of a crime, it is crucial that you speak with an attorney. There is a lot of nuance in the way the justice system handles these situations. You need the counsel of someone with experience.

A defendant’s mental health is relevant at two distinct points: at the time of the offense and at the beginning of court proceedings.

Criminal Responsibility – State of Mind at the Time of the Offense

For prosecution of many crimes, the prosecutor must demonstrate that the defendant intended to commit the crime for which he is charged. For example, a conviction for assault and battery requires that the defendant intended to commit a violent act. When one accidentally bumps into another person, the action lacks the requirement of intent and therefore fails to constitute the crime

Similarly, a person must have the capacity for criminal responsibility to be found guilty. This standard goes beyond mere knowledge of the law and mandates that the defendant must have the mental state to be aware he committed a crime. The defendant must also be able to recognize that the action was wrong or be unable to conform to legal conduct. Should sanity be an issue at the time of the offense and the prosecution insists upon pursuing its case, a defendant may plead not guilty by reason of insanity OR guilty but mentally ill. It is important, if considering a plea of not guilty by reason of sanity, to consider that such an outcome could result in forced hospitalization if the court finds the defendant to be a danger to himself or others. For this, and many other reasons, it is important to speak with an attorney.

Competency – State of Mind at the Time of Trial

As opposed to criminal responsibility, competency involves the defendant’s competence to stand trial and assist in his own defense. A person cannot be prosecuted for a crime if he suffers from a mental condition that would prevent him from understanding what is going on with the case and/or coordinating with his attorney.

A person who is found to be incompetent may be ordered by the court for treatment to return him to competence, if possible. The opinion of the court and prosecutors is often that treatment should involve confinement to a state-funded medical facility. The rules here are complicated…one more reason it is important to work with an attorney. You or your loved one should not be held somewhere pending rehabilitation unless there is clear evidence that confinement is necessary.

If you or someone you know suffers from mental illness and has been charged with a crime, call one of the attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C at (248) 263-6800 or complete a Request for Assistance Form. We have decades of experience dealing with competency, criminal responsibility, and a range of other mental health issues that can affect criminal litigation. You cannot rely on an already overburdened and prosecution-biased system to do the right thing. You need a champion to ensure that you or the person you love is treated fairly and compassionately by prosecutors and courts.

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