Michigan Criminal Defense Attorneys

The United States Supreme Court rules on issues that can potentially change the landscape of the criminal justice system.

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Police And Those with Mental Illness

In the next few days, the United States Supreme Court will consider the case of San Francisco v Sheehan. The issue, in that case, is whether, under the Americans With Disabilities Act, police officers are required to take special precautions when trying to arrest armed and violent suspects who have a mental illness. Criminal charges against those with mental illness can result from police officers’ ignorance of mental health issues.

The case started when police in San Francisco were called when a mentally ill woman (Sheehan) threatened to kill her social worker. Police entered Ms. Sheehan’s room in a group home and shot her five times when she came at them with a knife. Sheehan sued San Francisco, claiming that the police had a duty under the ADA to consider her mental illness and take more steps to avoid a violent confrontation.

This case has supporters on both sides. Mental health groups think that police should consider a suspect’s mental health; otherwise, there will be unnecessary police shootings. Law enforcement groups argue that forcing police officers to account for someone’s mental illness will place them and bystanders at unnecessary risk.

The ADA requires that public officials make “reasonable accommodations” to avoid discriminating against people with disabilities. The lower courts are split on applying the law to police when public safety is at risk.

Defending Criminal Charges Against Those with Mental Illness

Top criminal defense attorneys adopt a multi-faceted approach when defending clients living with mental illness, as these cases often require a nuanced and sensitive handling. The strategies they use are tailored to address both the legal complexities and the unique challenges posed by the client’s mental health condition. Here are some critical aspects of how they might approach such cases:

Gathering Comprehensive Mental Health Records: Attorneys start by thoroughly understanding the client’s mental health history. This involves collecting medical records, psychiatric evaluations, and any other relevant documentation that can provide insight into the client’s mental state.

Expert Evaluations and Testimony: Defense attorneys often enlist the help of mental health professionals to assess the client and provide expert testimony. These experts can offer opinions on the client’s mental condition at the time of the offense, its impact on their behavior, and their competency to stand trial.

Exploring the Impact of Mental Illness on the Offense: A key part of the defense may involve demonstrating how the client’s mental illness influenced their actions. This can be crucial in cases where the mental state plays a significant role in the alleged criminal behavior, potentially leading to considerations such as diminished capacity or insanity defenses.

Competency and Fitness to Stand Trial: If a client’s mental illness raises questions about their ability to understand the proceedings or assist in their defense, attorneys may request a competency evaluation. If the client is found incompetent, the proceedings may be delayed while they receive treatment to restore competency.

Mitigating Circumstances in Sentencing: In cases where conviction is likely or unavoidable, defense attorneys can argue that the client’s mental illness should be considered a mitigating factor in sentencing. This can lead to recommendations for treatment instead of incarceration or reduced sentences.

Negotiation and Plea Bargaining: Attorneys may negotiate with prosecutors to reach a plea deal that considers the client’s mental health, possibly resulting in reduced charges or alternative sentencing options like treatment programs.

Advocacy for Treatment and Support: In addition to legal defense, attorneys might advocate for their client’s access to mental health treatment and support services during the legal process and as part of post-conviction arrangements.

Educating the Court: Part of the defense strategy may involve educating the judge and jury about mental illness to ensure they properly understand these conditions and how they can affect behavior.

Client Communication and Care: Top defense attorneys are mindful of the communication challenges and special needs that clients with mental illness may have. They ensure the client understands the legal process and receives support throughout the proceedings.

Confidentiality and Sensitivity: Ensuring confidentiality and handling the case with sensitivity is paramount, given the stigma and personal nature of mental health issues.

In summary, defending clients living with mental illness requires a combination of legal expertise, knowledge of mental health issues, and a compassionate approach. The goal is to protect the client’s rights while also addressing their mental health needs within the legal framework.

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The legal system often demonstrates biases against individuals with mental illness facing criminal charges rooted in systemic issues and societal perceptions. These biases manifest in various ways. Firstly, there’s a general lack of understanding and awareness about mental health issues among many who work within the legal system, including law enforcement, attorneys, and even judges. This can lead to misinterpretation of symptoms as noncompliance or hostility, rather than as manifestations of a mental health condition. Additionally, the criminal justice system is primarily designed to deal with offenses and punishment, not to provide mental health treatment, which often results in inadequate care for those who need psychological help. The standard procedures of arrest, detainment, and trial can be particularly challenging and traumatic for individuals with mental illnesses, exacerbating their conditions.

Moreover, there is often a tendency to stigmatize and stereotype individuals with mental illnesses as dangerous or unpredictable, which can influence the attitudes of law enforcement, jurors, and judges, potentially leading to harsher treatment and sentencing. The resources for robust mental health evaluations and expert testimony are not always readily available, especially for defendants who cannot afford private legal representation. This can result in cases where mental health issues are not adequately considered in the context of the crime. Furthermore, the options for diversionary programs or mental health courts, which focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment, are limited and not available in all jurisdictions. This limitation means that many defendants with mental illnesses do not receive the specialized attention and treatment they need. Consequently, the legal system, with its focus on criminalization over rehabilitation, often fails to appropriately address the unique circumstances and needs of individuals with mental health issues facing criminal charges.

Is mental illness a defense to criminal charges in Michigan?

In Michigan, as in many other jurisdictions, mental illness can be a factor in a criminal defense, but its use and effectiveness depend on the specifics of each case and the nature of the charges. There are two primary legal concepts where mental illness is relevant: competency to stand trial and the insanity defense.

  • Competency to Stand Trial: This refers to a defendant’s ability to understand the charges against them and to participate in their own defense. If a defendant’s mental illness is so severe that they cannot comprehend the court proceedings or assist their attorney, the court may find them incompetent to stand trial. In such cases, the trial is typically postponed until the defendant’s competency can be restored, often through mental health treatment.
  • Insanity Defense: The insanity defense is more directly related to the defendant’s mental state at the time of the alleged crime. In Michigan, the test for insanity is based on the Model Penal Code’s standard. This standard states that a person is not responsible for criminal conduct if, as a result of their mental illness, they lack substantial capacity either to appreciate the wrongfulness of their conduct or to conform their behavior to the requirements of the law. The insanity defense is notoriously difficult to prove and is used infrequently. It requires substantial evidence, usually including expert psychiatric testimony, demonstrating that the defendant was indeed suffering from a significant mental illness at the time of the offense that affected their ability to understand what they were doing or to understand that it was wrong.

If a defendant is found not guilty by reason of insanity, they are typically not released outright. Instead, they are often committed to a mental health facility for treatment and are not released until they are no longer deemed a threat to themselves or others.

It’s important to note that while mental illness can be a factor in criminal defense, its application is complex and requires the expertise of a skilled attorney familiar with mental health law and the criminal justice system. The use of mental illness as a defense also raises intricate questions about treatment, public safety, and the legal responsibilities of individuals with mental health disorders.

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Let LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. Fight to Protect and Defend You!

If you have criminal charges, it is important not to face the criminal justice system alone. The government has essentially unlimited power and money to fight you, which means you are essentially unarmed. That is why it is essential to have a great law firm stand between you and the tremendous power of the government that is interested in convicting you. LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. pride themselves in being the law firm that will stand between you and the government to ensure that every single right you have is honored and protected. Our attorneys are well respected and highly experienced. If you are in trouble, LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. is the law firm you can count on for help. When those with mental illness face criminal charges, it takes highly educated and influential defense lawyers to obtain the best possible result.

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