Criminal Insanity: Mental Illness & Criminal Prosecutions
Defendants with 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 illnesses. Our laws consider 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 those with mental illness to be prosecuted and even imprisoned despite safeguards to prevent such outcomes. A defense lawyer can only provide effective assistance if they understand the relationship between mental illness and criminal responsibility.
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 how the justice system handles these situations. Having a criminal defense lawyer with experience and a stellar reputation would be best.
A defendant’s mental health is relevant at two distinct points: the time of the offense and the beginning of court proceedings.
The Relationship Between Criminal Responsibility and Mental Illness
In most criminal cases, the prosecutor must demonstrate that the defendant intended to commit the crime. 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 intent requirement 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 they committed a crime. Generally, a mental illness must be severe to qualify for the insanity defense and avoid criminal responsibility. If sanity is an issue, a defendant may plead not guilty by reason of insanity OR guilty but mentally ill. If the defendant considers a not guilty by reason of insanity defense, they must understand that such an outcome could result in forced hospitalization. If the court finds the defendant is dangerous to themselves or others, the judge may order long-term hospitalization. Because of the potentially severe consequences of a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity, it is crucial 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 their defense. A person cannot be prosecuted for a crime if they have a mental condition preventing them from understanding what is going on with the case and coordinating with their attorney.
A judge might order a person found incompetent to undergo treatment to return them to competence. The judge and prosecutor might believe that treatment for the defendant’s mental illness 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 judge should not confine the defendant 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 faces a criminal accusation or charge, call one of the attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. We have decades of experience dealing with competency, criminal responsibility, and 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. It would be best to have a champion to ensure that you are treated fairly and compassionately by prosecutors and courts.
Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.