FAQs About Mental Health in Criminal Cases (Part 3 of 3)
In this final blog post in a series of posts dealing with mental health in criminal cases, we will examine some of the frequently asked questions that occur in criminal cases. Mental health and disorders themselves are not understood very well, much less how such a condition might impact a person’s criminal case. Even if a mental condition or disorder is not so severe as to warrant the application of the insanity defense and/or a declaration that the person is not competent to stand trial, it may nevertheless play a role in determining what punishment is appropriate for a person if he or she is convicted of a crime.
Frequently Asked Questions About Mental Illnesses and Criminal Charges
Some of the most frequently-asked questions regarding mental health in criminal cases include:
I am being treated for bipolar disorder (or another mental illness or disorder). Can I be convicted of a crime?
Having a mental condition or disorder is not an automatic “get out of jail free” card that absolves you of all criminal liability for your actions. If your jurisdiction recognizes the insanity defense, you may be able to be declared “not guilty by reason of insanity” if you were not able to appreciate the wrongfulness or nature of your conduct because of your mental condition. Alternatively, if your mental condition makes it so that you can not understand the nature of the criminal proceedings or prepare a defense, you may be found not to be competent to stand trial. If neither of these situations applies to you, you may be convicted of a crime.
How do I prove I am suffering from a mental illness?
The existence of your mental condition (and its severity) will be established by your psychologist and/or psychiatrist along with your medical records. In addition, you may need to submit to an evaluation conducted by a professional chosen by the prosecution. This evaluation may also prove helpful in establishing the existence and severity of your mental condition (assuming, of course, that such an evaluation is favorable to your position).
Can evidence of my condition be helpful in any other regard?
Even if your condition is not severe enough to render you incompetent to stand trial or support an insanity defense, you may be able to have the judge or jury consider your condition as a mitigating factor in your case. For example, an assault or battery committed against another person that occurs because the offender is suffering from severe depression or schizophrenia should not (and usually is not) punished as severely as an assault or battery committed by someone who intentionally sets out to hurt another person.
What if I was not taking my medication at the time of the crime?
Failing to follow your treatment team’s directions and instructions can impact the mitigating effect that your mental condition may have. However, it is common for some individuals to have difficulty remembering to follow their treatment instructions or having the motivation necessary to take medications when prescribed without outside help. Your psychologist or psychiatrist can be very useful in explaining to a judge or jury how your medications help you, what assistance you may need to take your medications, and how you decompensate when you do not take your medications.
Using evidence of your mental condition in your criminal case is not always an easy task, and you will almost always require professional, expert witnesses who have examined you and/or treated you for your mental condition to testify on your behalf.