Mental Health and Criminal Defense
In criminal law, mental health can be used as a defense in certain circumstances. In the United States, there are two primary scenarios in which a defendant can use mental health as a defense: when they are not considered competent to stand trial or when they are unable to understand their actions and the consequences of those actions due to an underlying mental disorder.
Below, we will take a closer look at these two scenarios to help you understand how mental health can be used as a criminal defense. If you are facing criminal charges and believe you have mental health issues that might have contributed to your behavior, contact Melanson Law Office P.C. As a criminal defense attorney in Kingston, New York, I defend clients throughout the Hudson Valley, including New Paltz, Catskill, Highland, Hudson, Saugerties, and Poughkeepsie.
Common Mental Health Disorders
There are many different types of mental health disorders that can impair one’s ability to reason or think clearly, including but not limited to:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
The presence of any one of these conditions can potentially make someone unable to understand their actions and/or comprehend their likely outcomes. Therefore, if someone has been diagnosed with any one of these conditions prior to committing a crime, it may be possible for them to use this diagnosis in court as part of their criminal defense strategy.
Mental Health as a Defense
As mentioned earlier, there are two primary scenarios in which a defendant may be able to successfully use a mental health defense:
Criminal responsibility. The concept of criminal responsibility is based on whether or not a person was able to understand their actions and the consequences that those actions could have. It requires an examination of both the facts of the case and an evaluation of the defendant’s mental state at the time of the crime. If it is determined that the defendant did not understand their actions or comprehend their consequences, then they may be found not criminally responsible for those acts. This determination is made by examining any underlying mental disorders that could have impaired their ability to reason or think clearly at the time of the crime.
Competency. In addition to being able to use mental health as part of a criminal defense strategy in cases where someone is unable to understand their actions and/or comprehend their likely outcomes due to an underlying mental disorder, it is also possible for someone who has been diagnosed with certain disorders—such as schizophrenia—to use this diagnosis in order to establish that they are not competent enough to stand trial because they cannot effectively participate in their own legal proceedings. In such cases, defendants (or their attorneys) must prove that they do not possess sufficient capacity—either mentally or emotionally—to adequately participate in legal proceedings related to charges against them.
These are the two primary ways in which individuals can use mental health as part of a criminal defense strategy, depending on both the facts surrounding their case and any underlying mental disorders from which they suffer. If you believe your mental health issues contributed to your actions during the commission of the alleged offense, reach out to a criminal defense attorney.
Proving a Mental Health Claim
Proving a mental health claim may require skilled representation from a defense attorney. When establishing a mental health claim in your defense, you (or your attorney) must gather evidence and demonstrate the following:
A comprehensive evaluation has been conducted by a professional expert;
The conclusion of the evaluation is supported by examinations, testing, and diagnosis;
The evaluation shows that you were incompetent and unable to understand the nature of your actions; and
There is evidence to prove that, at the time of the allegations, you could not differentiate between right and wrong behavior.
If you are facing criminal charges, a knowledgeable attorney can fight to protect your rights during the criminal justice process and ensure that you are adequately represented throughout your case.
Protect Your Rights
If you feel that you will benefit from using mental health as your criminal defense, speak with an experienced attorney. As a criminal defense attorney at Melanson Law Office P.C., I can help you evaluate all applicable laws and examine the facts of your case so that you can make an informed decision about how to best proceed with your defense. Contact my office today to get started.