Criminal Insanity: Mental Illness & Criminal Prosecutions
Defendants who suffer from a mental illness are vulnerable to uninformed prosecutors and judges who fail to appreciate the seriousness of their conditions.
A Defendant With Mental Health Issues Needs a Lawyer with Expertise in Mental Illness
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 courts do not always follow these procedures. 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 the beginning of court proceedings.
Criminal Responsibility – State of Mind at the Time of the Offense
The prosecutor must demonstrate that the defendant intended to commit the crime in most criminal cases. 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 the 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 crucial if the defendant is considering a not guilty by reason of insanity defense, that he or she considers that such an outcome could result in forced hospitalization. If the court finds the defendant to be a danger to himself or others, the judge may order long-term hospitalization. Because of the potential severe consequences of a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity, 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 defense. A person cannot be prosecuted for a crime if he has a mental condition that would prevent him from understanding what is going on with the case and coordinating with his attorney.
A person found to be incompetent may be ordered by the court for treatment to return him to competence, if possible. The judge and prosecutor might believe that treatment should involve confinement to a state-funded medical facility. The rules here are complicated, and the defendant will want the best possible legal representation to help navigate through the complexities. The defendant should not be confined to a mental health facility pending “rehabilitation” unless there is clear evidence that confinement is necessary.
Defense Lawyers With Experience in Mental Health Defenses
If you or someone you know suffers from mental illness and is charged with a crime, call one of the attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. 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.
Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation, or complete a Request for Assistance Form and we will contact you promptly.