What Happens If a Defendant Has a Mental Health Disorder During a Criminal Trial?

Certain mental health disorders can increase a person’s risk of committing a crime as it puts them at a higher risk of violence if they don’t receive treatment. Mental health disorders impair a person’s perception of reality, putting them at a higher risk of committing offenses they otherwise would have avoided had they not had the disorder.

If you or your loved one is facing trial for a crime but suffers from a mental health disorder, consult skilled lawyers from a criminal litigation law firm in Seattle. They can evaluate your case and help you understand how the mental health disorder may impact the case. An important consideration is that a mentally incompetent person may not stand trial and may not be convicted of a crime.

What Mental Health Disorders Can Impact a Court Case?

It’s crucial to note that not everyone who suffers mental illness is a criminal or violent. Conversely, not all criminals have mental health issues. However, some offenders have mental health issues that influence their behavior, causing them to commit crimes.

Seattle criminal justice attorneys explain that some of the most prevalent mental health issues that may impact a criminal trial include:

  • Bipolar affective disorder
  • Personality disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Schizophrenia
  • Depression
  • Substance use disorders

Understanding Mental Health from a Criminal Justice Perspective

The criminal justice system acknowledges that mental health issues can significantly affect a person’s behavior. For example, struggling with addiction and anxiety can make it difficult for someone to make good decisions and see things clearly. Some disorders, such as schizophrenia, make it difficult for one to control their actions.

The Texas Health and Safety Code Section 571.003(14) defines mental health as:

  • A condition, disease, or illness that substantially impairs a person’s perception of reality, thoughts, judgment, or emotional process. This definition excludes senility, epilepsy, and alcoholism
  • A condition that grossly impairs behavior, as demonstrated by recent disturbed behavior
  • During criminal trials, the prosecution may have to show what a defendant’s mental state was like when they committed a crime. In the legal sphere, determining whether someone is guilty of a crime and should be held responsible for their actions depends on their mental health. Skilled Seattle criminal justice lawyers can quote insanity to defend you against the charges.

How do Mental Health Issues Impact Competency to Stand Trial?

Competency to stand trial refers to the defendant’s mental capability to understand the charges against them and effectively defend themselves at trial. The court may require a written report of examination stating whether the accused has the capacity:

  • To comprehend his position
  • To understand the nature and object of proceedings against them
  • To defend themselves rationally
  • To cooperate with his counsel to the end that any available defense may be interposed

An accused person who suffers from delusions may lack the capacity to comprehend the charges against them because of their inability to differentiate between reality and their distortion of the events in question.

If mental competency is an issue in your or your loved one’s case, criminal justice lawyers in Seattle can gather evidence that proves a lack of capacity to stand trial. For example, they can engage a mental health expert qualified by the state to provide testimony from a mental health perspective.

Can Mental Health Illness Be Used as a Defense in a Criminal Case?

If you’re found fit to stand trial, your criminal justice lawyer in Seattle can still use your mental illness to help find you not guilty. Section 8.01 of the Penal Code provides that a defendant can claim they didn’t know they were committing a crime because they had a severe mental illness.

Your lawyers can create a strong defense that proves you genuinely believed that your actions were justified or you acted out of involuntary compulsion. In this case, you can be found not guilty because of insanity. Specific defense strategies that involve mental illness that your lawyers can employ are:

  • The insanity defense: They can argue that a mental health condition prevented you from knowing right from wrong or understanding the full extent or nature of your actions.
  • Diminished capacity: The defense can apply if a mental health condition prevents you from forming the required intent to commit the crime.
  • Competency: Your lawyers can argue that you lack the capacity to understand the charges or assist the defense.

The outcome can be an order to receive treatment in a mental hospital where you will receive the necessary care as opposed to incarceration.

Mitigating Mental Health Evidence

If you’re found guilty at trial, your lawyers can use your poor mental health as an issue affecting the sentencing. It can be a crucial consideration in mitigating the severity of your sentencing. The court can consider your history of mental illness, treatment options, and rehabilitation prospects when determining the penalties.

For example, the court could take into account your PTSD and associated addiction when sentencing you for a substance abuse-related crime. Your defense team can fight to have you enrolled in a mental health diversion program, where you’ll be diverted toward treatment instead of incarceration. Participation in such programs may be appropriate if there is evidence of mental illness history.

A Skilled Criminal Justice Lawyer Helping You Use Insanity Defense to Beat Criminal Charges

If you’re facing criminal charges but have a mental illness that you believe played a role in the offense, talk to skilled criminal justice lawyers in Seattle. They can evaluate the case and help you create a strong defense strategy based on incompetence, insanity, or diminished capacity. They could also argue that you’re unfit to withstand trial to have the charges dismissed or penalties reduced.

The Law Offices of Kevin Trombold, PLLC, is a reputable criminal litigation law firm that can provide the legal support you need during trial. Our lawyers are dedicated and aggressive and will fight hard to protect your rights regardless of the charges you’re facing. Call us at 206-590-7667 to schedule a FREE consultation.