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Mental Health and Criminal Defense

Law Office of Joshua S. Reed May 1, 2023

Any time you’re facing criminal charges, it’s essential you work with an experienced attorney who can evaluate your case and structure a defense that’s custom-tailored to your situation. An attorney can help protect your rights, help guide you through the system, and fight for your best outcome.  

Nowhere is this more important than when you or a loved one believes that their mental health caused or influenced a crime being committed. When mental health issues prompt someone to be aggressive or impulsive, that person deserves proper representation that will protect their rights and future.  

However, proving a mental health claim is extremely complicated and can only be used under very narrow circumstances. As such, you should meet with a criminal defense attorney to better understand what the law says and how this will affect your options. No matter your situation or where you are in East Tennessee, if you need legal defense, we at the Law Office of Joshua S. Reed are here for you. Call today to schedule a free consultation.   

Common Mental Health Disorders  

Many defendants want to know if mental health can be a defense for committing a crime. In general, a mental health disorder can apply to a broad range of conditions, including but not limited to the following: 

  • anxiety disorders 

  • attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) 

  • autism spectrum disorder 

  • bipolar disorder 

  • depression 

  • personality disorders 

  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 

  • schizophrenia 

  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) 

While mental health can be used as a defense to protect defendants, not all mental health conditions are considered serious enough to warrant this. Or, if the disorder is serious enough, it can be difficult to prove that the crime was caused directly because of the effects of this disorder. Getting the support of an attorney is your priority.  

Mental Health as a Defense  

Most people who experience a mental health disorder can live fairly normal lives. Because of this, a diagnosis doesn’t mean you’ll be able to use it as a defense against criminal actions. You’ll need to meet specific requirements in order to qualify for this defense. You must meet two main criteria: criminal responsibility and competency.   

  1. Criminal responsibility. A criminal responsibility defense requires your legal team to prove you weren't aware of your actions at the time the crime was committed. Or, you weren’t aware what you were doing was wrong due to your mental condition. 

  1. Competency. The other factor that will be argued is your competency to stand trial, which focuses on your mental health during the court proceedings. For example, your defense team may try to prove that you aren’t able to communicate effectively or fully understand the charges against you.  

Proving Mental Health Claims 

Proving a mental health claim can be very difficult, and it should be noted that even if your legal team is successful in arguing this, it will not acquit you entirely of any penalties. In some cases, a judge may decide to postpone your trial until you’re deemed mentally capable, or you may be admitted to a treatment program or mental health facility in lieu of jail time.  

That said, using a mental health defense requires your criminal defense attorney to present past medical records and diagnoses as well as find an expert who can perform a clinical evaluation of the defendant and then testify on their behalf. Overall, they will have to prove that your actions weren’t due to a normal lapse of judgment or an impairment due to drugs or alcohol, but rather prove that your actions were directly related to your mental state.  

Sentencing and Rights of Prisoners With Mental Health Disorders  

To address the serious nature of these conditions and how they can affect criminal proceedings, the sentencing right of prisoners with mental health disorders is handled differently. For example, if it’s determined you do have a severe mental illness that caused you to commit a crime, you cannot be sentenced to standard jail time. Instead, you may be offered a treatment program or facility to help you with your condition where you’ll be cared for by a mental health professional. However, you still may be asked to stand trial again if your mental state improves.  

Protect Your Rights and Your Health  

If you or a loved one has been arrested for a crime, and you believe a mental health condition can be used as a part of your defense, reach out to our passionate attorneys at the Law Office of Joshua S. Reed for help. We work to give you dedicated attention, personalized services, and compassionate care—because this is what you deserve. Get in touch with us today so that you can advocate for your future. We serve those in Knoxville, Farragut, and all of East Tennessee, including (but not limited to) Anderson County, Union County, Loudon County, Blount County, Roane County, Jefferson County, and more.