Mental illness can be an important factor in criminal law cases. One such factor is the defendant’s sanity at the time of the offense. If the defendant can establish his or her insanity at the time the offense was committed, the jury may acquit the defendant on this ground. In the context of criminal defense, insanity means that due to a mental disease or defect, the defendant did not know the nature and quality of his or her act or did not understand that the act was wrong. A defendant who is acquitted by reason of insanity is placed in temporary custody for evaluation. Depending on the evaluation, the defendant will be conditionally released, released without conditions, or hospitalized.
Even if a mentally ill defendant cannot establish an insanity defense, the fact of the defendant’s mental illness is still important as it may lessen the punishment he or she will face. After a defendant is found guilty, there is a sentencing proceeding in which he or she has an opportunity to present evidence relevant to punishment. During this proceeding, the defendant can show how suffering from a mental illness has affected his or her life and behavior. This may reduce the ultimate sentence imposed.
Another issue in criminal cases is the defendant’s competency to stand trial. A defendant is not competent to stand trial if he lacks substantial capacity to understand the charges against him or to assist in his own defense. If a defendant is found incompetent to stand trial, the court must order that the defendant receive treatment to restore his competency. If, however, the court determines the defendant is unrestorably incompetent, it generally must order that he be released, committed for treatment, or certified for eligibility for admission to a training center for individuals with mental retardation (unless the defendant is charged with a sexually violent offense or capital murder).
Mental illness issues can be critical to the outcome of criminal cases. It is very important that your attorney understand all of the ways in which mental illness may be relevant to your defense. The Mental Health Law Group represents criminal defendants who have various types of mental health disorders.