Did Your Mental Illness Have Something To Do With Your Crime?

Posted on: 13 November 2014

If you're in legal trouble, can your mental illness be used as part of your defense? Maybe. Read more to understand how your mental illness may help you if you are facing criminal charges.

You Need To Be Candid With Your Attorney About Your Mental Illness

Some people clearly appear to be mentally ill, but many people suffer from mental illnesses that aren't so obvious, such as depression or bi-polar disorder. Some mental disorders (and some physical disorders) can even cause episodes of psychosis, which could cause somebody who is generally law-abiding to commit a serious crime.

If you suffer from a mental illness that you believe led to the criminal charges against you, be honest with your attorney. He or she is not going to judge you for it. He or she understands that you did not ask to suffer from mental illness.

However, you attorney needs the information so that he or she can decide if your illness is a possible defense against the charges you are facing. Let your attorney know:

  • your diagnosis
  • when you were first diagnosed with your mental illness
  • who made the diagnosis
  • what treatments you have had for your mental illness
  • what medications you are on, if any, for your mental illness
  • whether or not you were taking the medication when you committed the crime

This information can help you attorney build a defense for you that could result in your charges being reduced, or even dismissed. 

Legal Insanity Is Different Than Mental Illness

Being "legally insane" means that you were so out of touch with reality that you couldn't tell the difference between right and wrong at all when you committed the crime. If you plead insanity as a defense, you are asking the court to say you shouldn't be held accountable for your actions at all.

The definition of legal insanity varies greatly from state to state, and only an attorney can advise you of the laws where you live, but insanity is used as a defense less than 1% of the time. Even then, it's only successful 25% of the time. The insanity defense is rarely used for anything other than the most serious crimes, like murder.

Mental illness is seen as more of a mitigating circumstance that affected your ability to obey the law. If you claim that your mental illness affected your ability to obey the law, you are admitting that you are at least partially responsible for your actions.

Your attorney might also argue that your mental state caused you to have a diminished capacity to fully understand what you were doing when you committed the crime.

Almost all (90 to 95 percent) of all criminal cases end in plea bargains, and studies have shown that prosecutors are more likely to agree to a lighter sentence if you agree to a plea bargain rather than go to trial.

During a plea bargain, your attorney will try to get your charges and sentence reduced. Your attorney will probably argue that treatment for your mental illness—such as counseling and medication—makes more sense than incarcerating you.

Mental illness can be an underlying factor in many situations that can land someone in serious legal trouble. If you suffer from a mental disorder—or think that you do—and you believe that it had some impact on your actions when you committed a crime, discuss the situation with your defense attorney, such as from Marberry Law Firm, P.C., early.