Criminal Law Firm

How Mental Health Issues Play in Criminal Defenses

As the number of available beds in the state mental hospitals declines, those engaged in the legal system encounter more and more persons with mental health issues. Many lawyers still have little or no experience in dealing with this population, though. This is because mental health criminal defenses aren’t raised so often as a general matter. However, it doesn’t mean this issue should be underestimated or even neglected.

The vast majority of lawyers prefer working with clients who don’t have mental health issues. On average, an experienced well-employed attorney face about 50 cases involving a chemical dependency problem or serious mental disease during his career. Yet, many attorneys waive the mental health criminal defenses rather than coping with them. They do it for a strategic reason.

By the way, human behavior is extremely complex and it makes the mental health defenses very complicated. Unlike the hard natural or physical sciences (like physics, chemistry, and biology), psychology is still an inexact science. That said, you cannot expect a high level of precision. On the other hand, the justice system by definition deals with defendants who don’t have an intellectual disability or a severe mental disease. That means the justice system presumes deterrent effects, as well intelligent, rational understanding of a case. However, it doesn’t work smoothly when someone involved in the case isn’t rational, doesn’t understand the proceedings, and is not capable of making reasonable choices.

So, it should not come as a surprise why many lawyers stay away from criminal defenses associated with mental health issues. Even the most reputable judges, seasoned defense attorneys, and well-respected prosecutors mess those cases up badly. It often results in a hodgepodge of inconsistent law.

In criminal cases, there may be included the following mental issues:

  • Mental retardation
  • Diminished capacity
  • Insanity

There are also various mental diseases that may have an influence on defendants in a criminal case, but they are not regarded as insanity. Those mental health issues include:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Schizo-affective disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

However, defense attorneys are mostly hired in the following practice areas:

  • Murder
  • Drug Charges
  • Impaired driving
  • Traffic offences
  • Sexual assaults
  • Youth cases
  • Domestic violence
  • Property offenses and thefts
  • Weapons offences
  • Professional discipline

If you’ve been charged with any of these criminal offenses, you may contact criminal law firm in Grand Prairie.

But what to do if a criminal defense is attributed to a mental health disorder. Well, there are three types of defenses available in most states to choose from:

  1. Competency – A criminal defense focusing on the current mental limitations of the defendant, which have not been present when the alleged crime has been committed. Competency is a constitutional and fundamental prerequisite to the government that prosecutes a defendant.
  2. Criminal Responsibility – A criminal defense that focuses on the mental status of the defendant at the time of the alleged crime. Such a criminal defense is related to competency but it doesn’t imply it.
  3. Culpability Defenses (Diminished Capacity) – A criminal defense is connected but not quite the same to criminal responsibility. With such a defense, the defendant is stating that he/she should get a lesser penalty or is guilty of a lesser crime due to his/her mental status.

Mental health issues can play a big role in a criminal defense case. The convicted defendant can provide the judge with psychological evidence in order to alleviate the punishment. So, it’s worth raising one of these three mental health defenses.


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