There’s often a social stigma cloaked around discussion of mental health in the U.S., though there is a shift occurring when addressing this topic, one of which is how a person’s mental state can affect their criminal defense strategy. We’ve all seen the Law & Order episodes where a defendant attempts to get off by pleading insanity; and, while insanity is likely the most well-known defense when we look at mental health in criminal cases, it’s not so one-dimensional.
The spectrum of mental and emotional wellness is broad and encompasses an array of issues many people face every single day. The pressures and isolation from a global pandemic are enough to cause malaise in even the most enduring minds. Add to that the extreme winter storm Texas just faced and from which we are still trying to recover, and it’s a bit easier to understand that insanity isn’t the only way people can be affected mentally and emotionally in their everyday lives. But what does that have to do with a strategy for criminal defense? Let’s take a look at three ways your mental and emotional wellness can impact your criminal defense but in a positive way.
Is ignorance bliss?
There’s a common misconception that ignorance of the law is no excuse, and intending to commit a crime (whether you realize it or not) means you’re guilty; however, you have to take into account that every crime has an intentional element, or mens rea. Elle Woods said it best when she argued in Legally Blonde that “a complete lack of mens rea tells us that there can be no crime without vicious will.” Sometimes, especially in cases when an individual is not well emotionally or mentally, crimes are in fact committed with no ill intent, and that definitely plays a role in your defense.
Does this mean mental unwellness gets you off scot-free? No, but it means your mental state is very much relevant, and any good criminal defense attorney will know how to set the scene when presenting a case where a client’s mental state impacted their actions. So, maybe ignorance is not bliss, but it is a factor.
The second way in which a person’s mental state can affect their defense and outcome in the initial phases of an arrest and arraignment comes in provisions that take into account mental state, intellectual disabilities, PTSD, anxiety, and more when it comes to setting your bond. A strong and capable criminal defense attorney will know about provisions like Article 16.22 in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, and they’ll know the most effective means to present this, which has a definite influence on the way a prosecutor will look at a defendant as they request a bond and move forward throughout the case.
Diversion Programs = Dismissal?
The third way that your mental state can help or hurt your criminal defense comes in the admittance to and completion of a pretrial diversion program. Every county will have its own programs available, and it’s up to your attorney to know about those and determine which is the best for you. There are an array of diversion programs in each county, and there’s certainly allowance for persons with impaired mental states. Completion of these programs and abiding by their set conditions often result in a criminal case being dismissed and altogether expunged from a person’s record, which is a much happier and more hopeful place to be than is the beginning phases of arrest and fighting charges. Having an experienced attorney is the first step in getting to that hopeful place with a clean record.
If you or a loved one were charged with a crime, and you feel like your mental state could have been a factor, it’s important to contact a qualified and experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. The attorneys at Peek & Toland are well versed in this type of defense, and we’d be happy to hear the circumstances of your case and help.