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Mental Health Defenses

Posted by Andrew Segal | Nov 08, 2013 | 0 Comments

It is not uncommon for people in the criminal justice system to have mental health issues. The nature and severity of these issues can have a significant impact on the resolution of a criminal case.

In some instances an individual will assert that they are not guilty by reason of mental disease or some other form of mental defect.

Under Alabama law, for a person to win using such defense, they must establish that, at the time of the commission of the criminal offense, as a result of some severe mental disease or defect they are unable to appreciate the nature and quality or wrongfulness of their acts. The burden of raising this issue is always on the defense and it must be established by clear and convincing evidence.

There are a number of dangers with this type of the defense. First and foremost, these defenses are often rejected by juries. Second, with such defense is successful, it does not necessarily mean the accused will, if found not guilty under insanity defense be released. It is likely that after acquittal with such defense the defendant may be committed to a mental health facility until such time as the court is satisfied that they no longer present a danger to the community. The risk is the person who “wins” with an insanity defense may still be deprived of their freedom for significant period of time.

If a criminal defense lawyer in Alabama suspects his client is suffering from mental illness, or if either the court or the prosecutor suspects that an accused individual may have mental health issues, the court may order a mental health forensic evaluation. Such evaluations typically will investigate to issues.

The first issue is to determine if an individual is competent to stand trial. If the mental health evaluation determines that a person is not competent to stand trial the court will want to know whether not that individual can be restored to competency. If it is a treatable mental illness, treatment efforts will be made and, if the individual is restored to competency the case can potential proceed as any other type of criminal case. If the person is not competent to stand trial and cannot be restored to competency in the case cannot be tried. In reviewing competency issues court wants to know whether not an individual is sufficiently competent to meaningfully assist and participate in their defense and their sufficiently competent to understand the proceedings against them.

The second issue typically addressed in forensic mental health evaluation is whether or not, at the time of the events custody the crime, the individual was suffering from a severe mental disease or defect that could result in a mental health defense. If the mental health examiner concludes the defense is warranted, this does not end the inquiry. The issue of whether not a mental health offense has been satisfied is factual questions and that means that if the case was tried before a jury the jury would decide this issue or, if the case was tried in front of judge the judge would decide whether or not this issue was established. Since this is an issue that involves both the interpretation of facts, psychological and/or medical testimony as well as legal standards; the finding of a mental health professional in favor of the accused does not automatically lead to finding of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.

If you, or a loved one, is suffering from a mental disease or defect it is of utmost importance to make sure that the attorney defending the case is well aware of the circumstances.

More frequently encountered the claims of an insanity defense are other issues involving the mental health of someone accused of a crime. There are many, many individuals who suffer from some sort of mental health issue that, while not significant enough to require an insanity defense, are significant enough that they need to be considered in reaching a fair resolution to their case.

Fortunately, Madison County has mental health court programs that allow individuals with mental health issues to obtain treatment and frequently which permit such individuals to avoid a conviction or incarceration. Thus an individual who has some form of mental health issues should consult with their attorney to determine whether or not they might be able to qualify for such programs.

If someone you care about is facing criminal charges and they have mental health issues and they wish to retain counsel, either myself or Mrs. Segal at Segal and Segal are happy to speak with you. Feel free to contact us either through this blog or simply by calling (256) 533-4529 and set up an appointment

About the Author

Andrew Segal

Andrew Segal is a former prosecutor who now represents the accused as a criminal defense attorney in Huntsville, Alabama area courts. Andrew graduated cum laude from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in 1982. During his time at Washington College of Law at American University, he discovered hi...

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