Role of Mental Health in Criminal Cases

Our mental well-being influences the choices we make and the things we do. So, if you’re dealing with various mental health problems, it might be a factor if you end up being charged with a crime.

Research indicates that some mental conditions make people more likely to break the law. This risk is higher, especially for those struggling with long-term substance abuse issues, even if they show signs of improvement in cognitive problems and mental health conditions. Insanity isn’t the only concern; there are many mental health issues that relate to legal responsibility.

In Texas, mental health is a big deal in criminal defense cases. The mental state of a person accused of a crime can impact how well they understand the charges against them, their ability to help in their defense, and their capacity to make informed choices about their case. In this blog post, we’ll delve into why mental health matters so much in criminal defense cases in Texas.

Understanding Mental Health Through the Criminal Justice Lens in Texas

Our knowledge about mental health has grown. Mental issues can strongly impact how someone behaves. Things like feeling down, being anxious, struggling with addiction, or having bipolar disorder can make it hard for a person to make good decisions and see things clearly. Disorders like schizophrenia can also make it tough for someone to control what they do.

In Texas, Section 571.003(14) in the Health and Safety Code defines mental illness as:

  1. An illness, disease, or condition (excluding epilepsy, senility, and alcoholism) that substantially impairs a person’s thought, perception of reality, emotional process, or judgment
  2. Or grossly impairs behavior, as demonstrated by recent disturbed behavior.

In legal cases, the prosecution might have to show what the accused person’s mental state was like. Figuring out if someone is guilty of a crime or how much they should be responsible for what they did often depends on their mental health.

How Mental Health Illness May Impact Criminal Behavior

At times, having a mental illness might lead someone to do something against the law. It’s important to note that not everyone with a mental illness is a criminal, and not all crimes happen because of mental illness.

If you’re dealing with a mental illness, it’s worth considering how it might have affected what you did. For instance, if you have something like schizophrenia and don’t have access to treatment, the court might find it sensible to order treatment and explore other ways to help you get back on track.

Mental Health in Legal Proceedings

In Texas, if a person has a mental health illness in a criminal case, it can lead to a lighter sentence. The court can appoint a “competency evaluator” to check if the person can participate in the trial. If found unable, they might go to a mental health facility for treatment until they are ready for trial.

Insanity Defense:

As defined in Section 8.01 of the Penal Code, someone can claim they committed a crime because of a serious mental illness and didn’t know it was wrong. To use it, they must prove they had a mental illness and, because of it, didn’t know their actions were wrong during the crime. Strong evidence is crucial.

Mitigating Sentences:

Mental health can reduce a defendant’s sentence. For instance, if someone has a mental illness, the court might consider this when deciding on severe punishments. Texas law allows “mental health experts” to testify.

Plea Bargaining:

Mental health matters in plea bargains—deals where the defendant pleads guilty for a reduced sentence. If someone has a mental illness, the defense may negotiate alternatives like mental health treatment or community supervision instead of jail.

How Mental Health Serves as a Defense in Texas

Mental health issues may impact how people see the world, react to things, understand actions, and interact with others. There are two main defenses related to mental health: criminal responsibility and competency.

In Texas, the law outlines what counts as a criminal responsibility defense. This includes:

  • Mental disease or defect leading the offender not to know their action was a crime or insanity defense.
  • Mistake of fact, where the offender believed their actions were bearable.
  • Mistake of law, where the offender thought the action wasn’t against the law.
  • Temporary insanity caused by alcohol, drugs, or other substances.

Competency involves the offender’s mental ability to understand the consequences of their actions, the charges against them, and the legal proceedings. If they can’t discuss the case with their attorney reasonably or lack a clear understanding of the legal proceedings, they may be deemed incompetent for trial.

Validity of the Claim

There’s a presumption that someone accused of a crime is fit for trial unless proven otherwise. To prove a mental health defense, a mental health professional evaluates the defendant and shares their findings with the court. The judge or jury decides if the defendant is fit for trial, separate from the criminal trial. The expert’s opinion can affect the verdict and sentencing.

However, what the defendant says in the mental health court can’t be used in the criminal trial. The defendant needs a criminal defense attorney during the evaluation to protect their rights.

Arrested? Don’t Plea, Call Me!

In the mix of mental health and legal matters, a criminal defense attorney plays a crucial role. They act as a strong ally, ensuring your rights are protected during evaluations and maintaining a solid legal stance for you.

Our Texas Criminal Defense Group lawyers also offer essential advice about the law, helping you understand how mental health factors into the legal system. Their expertise shines when facing challenges, as they work diligently to secure the best outcome in your case. Essentially, a skilled criminal defense attorney stands by your side, tirelessly advocating for your interests amidst the intricate connection between mental health and the law.