Mental Health and Criminal Defense
Everyone needs to be held accountable for their actions. However, mental health problems can affect a person’s ability to comprehend their actions. So, does it mean mental health can be used as a defense to criminal charges? The short answer is “Yes.” Whether or not “mental health” can be a defense in your case depends on many factors, including but not limited to competency and culpability.
At Military Law Group, we understand how a person’s state of mind can affect their thinking and behavior. We defend people with mental health disorders in criminal cases and work toward achieving the most favorable outcomes possible. Our office is located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but our attorneys serve clients throughout the Tulsa metro area, including Creek County, Rogers County, and the Creek and Cherokee Nations.
Common Mental Health Disorders
A large percentage of the prison population has mental health disorders. In some cases, it may be more appropriate to sentence a person with a mental health disorder to a secure psychiatric hospital instead of sending them to jail or prison.
A 2022 study published in the National Library of Medicine revealed some of the most common mental health disorders among prisoners:
Psychosis is a term used to describe a mental health disorder in which people lose some contact with reality. Psychosis may manifest itself in the form of hallucinations and delusions.
Depression, also known as depressive disorder, involves a depressed mood and/or loss of interest in activities for prolonged periods of time.
Substance/alcohol abuse is a mental health disorder characterized by a person’s inability to control their use of alcohol, drugs, and other substances.
Personality disorders are a group of disorders that cause a person to think, feel, or behave very differently from the average person.
Schizophrenia is characterized by significant impairments in the way a person perceives reality.
Anxiety disorder is when a person responds to certain situations or things with fear, dread, and extreme stress.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder commonly developed when people witness or experience a traumatic or shocking event.
Adaptation disorder is a condition characterized by the difficulty to cope with a stressful life event and manifests itself in the form of emotional and behavioral changes.
This is not an exclusive list of mental health disorders prevalent among people sentenced to jail or prison. Nonetheless, just because you have a mental health disorder does not necessarily mean you can break the law and will be able to use an insanity defense to avoid criminal penalties, including incarceration. There are many factors that come into play when considering mental health as a potential defense strategy.
Mental Health as a Defense
When it comes to raising a mental health defense in a criminal case, it should be considered whether or not the defendant is competent to stand trial. A person who is not competent to stand trial cannot be convicted of a crime. This legal principle is known as “competency.” A lack of competency can be established if it is shown that the defendant is not able to:
communicate with their attorney with a reasonable degree of rational understanding; and
understand the nature of the criminal proceedings they are being held against.
Often, treatment is ordered in the hopes of restoring the defendant’s competency before proceeding with the process. When using the insanity defense in criminal cases, the defendant’s legal counsel must prove that their client either:
did not know their actions were illegal, or they were committing a criminal offense; or
did not realize their act was wrong.
If the defendant did not know or understand what they were doing during the crime, their legal counsel will argue that the client cannot be culpable. In many cases, defendants are not culpable when they have a mental health disorder such as schizophrenia or psychosis.
Proving a Mental Health Claim
After the Insanity Defense Reform Act was signed into law in 1984, it is the defendant’s burden to prove a mental health claim, not the government’s burden to prove the defendant’s culpability. In order to prove that you cannot be culpable, you or your defense attorney must demonstrate “clear and convincing” evidence to show that:
you did not know your actions were illegal;
you did not know you were committing a criminal offense; or
you did not realize the act was wrong.
Our criminal defense attorneys at Military Law Group provide aggressive and skilled representation to defendants with mental health disorders. We can investigate the details of your case and help you determine whether or not “mental health” can be a viable defense strategy in your situation. We have the necessary resources and practice to help you establish an insanity defense and attempt to prove your innocence.
You Have Rights. Protect Them.
If you have been charged with a crime, proving that you have a mental health disorder to get the charges dismissed or minimize possible penalties can be difficult, but not impossible. The sooner you get legal counsel, the more likely your matter will end favorably. Our attorneys at Military Law Group are dedicated to fighting for your freedom at every stage of the criminal justice process. Reach out today to receive a case evaluation. We proudly serve clients in Tulsa, Creek County, Rogers County, and the Creek and Cherokee Nations, Oklahoma.