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Mental Health and Criminal Defense 

Madson Castello Law Aug. 31, 2022

Our mental health affects every decision we make and every action we take. Therefore, if you suffer from one or more of a broad range of mental health issues, it could be a factor if you commit a crime.   

Studies show that some psychiatric conditions increase the risk of committing a crime. The risk is particularly high in those with long-term substance abuse disorders but nonetheless present with most cognitive impairments and psychiatric conditions. Insanity is no longer the bar. There are many mental health issues relative to legal liability.   

Given the significant barriers to mental health diagnosis and treatment, it is not surprising that some who suffer from them find themselves in trouble with the law. Is it fair that they are treated identically to someone without a mental health issue who committed the same crime? At Madson Castello Law, we do not believe they should be, and increasingly, the justice system agrees.  

If you have been charged with a crime in Dallas or North Texas, including Denton, McKinney, or Fort Worth, and you believe a mental health condition played a role, talk to us before you answer questions posed by law enforcement or the district attorney. We are committed to discussing with our clients any mental health issues that might have contributed to their behavior and ensuring they are addressed in the legal process. 

What Are Some Common Mental Health Disorders That May Play a Role? 

Among the most prevalent mental health disorders are substance abuse, anxiety disorders, bipolar affective disorder, major depressive disorder or clinical depression, dissociative disorders, paranoia, eating disorders, psychosis, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.   

Mental health disorders are certainly not uncommon. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that more than 34% of Texas adults reported suffering from symptoms of anxiety and/or major depressive disorder just in the period from September 29 to October 11, 2021.   

How Is Mental Health Used as a Defense? 

Mental health disorders affect how you view the world, how you react and experience things, affect your ability to understand and comprehend the results of your actions and influence your interactions with others. The two key defenses involve criminal responsibility and competency.   

Texas law specifies what constitutes a criminal responsibility defense. Affirmative defenses relevant to mental health involve the offender’s mental state at the time of the commission of a crime, including:  

  • Mental disease or defect that caused the offender to not know what they did was a crime at the time it was committed, commonly referred to as the “insanity defense”;  

  • Mistake of fact in which the offender formed a reasonable belief that their actions were acceptable;  

  • Mistake of law in which the offender’s interpretation of the law led them to believe the action was not unlawful; and,  

  • Intoxication by alcohol, drugs, or other substances that caused temporary insanity.   

Competency is the offender’s mental capacity to understand the consequences of an action, the allegations being made against them, and the legal proceedings involved in the prosecution of the crime. If that person lacks the ability to discuss the case with their attorney with a reasonable degree of understanding or lacks a rational and factual understanding of the legal proceedings, they should be found incompetent to stand trial.   

Competency to stand trial is protected under the U.S. Constitution and Texas law. An offender incapable of understanding the process cannot be subject to it. Criminal responsibility, on the other hand, is governed by state law.   

What Does It Take to Prove a Mental Health Claim? 

Just as there is a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, Texas law states there is a presumption that the person charged with a criminal offense is competent to stand trial unless proven otherwise. The process of proving a mental health defense begins with an evaluation by a qualified mental health professional. The expert must present their evaluation to the court with a finding regarding the defendant’s mental health. The report must be supported by details regarding the examination, observations, testing, diagnosis, and findings.   

The judge and jury, if there is one, may render a decision regarding the defendant’s competency to stand trial, which is separate from the criminal trial itself. Even if found competent, the mental health professional’s expert opinion can be used to determine guilt or innocence and used in the sentencing phase of the trial. However, statements made by the defendant and evidence procured as the result of the pre-trial mental health proceedings cannot be submitted as evidence against the defendant during the trial on the criminal charges.    

A defendant undergoing a mental health evaluation must be represented by an attorney prior to and during the evaluation to protect the defendant’s rights.  

Sentencing and Rights of Prisoners with Mental Health Disorders 

Texas supports a number of diversion programs for those suffering from mental health disorders in lieu of incarceration for low-level offenses. These include substance abuse treatment programs and mental health treatment designed to address the underlying issues rather than merely punish the offender. Completion or ongoing treatment may be accompanied by probation and other penalties.   

The Texas Correctional Office on Offenders with Medical or Mental Impairments (TCOOMM) addresses the growing prison population suffering from mental health problems. Every correctional facility is required to create and practice a plan which includes the delivery of mental health services for those who need them. They must provide access to mental health professionals for evaluation, treatment, and medications prescribed to treat mental health disorders.  

Fighting for Your Rights 

If you are someone suffering from a mental health disorder, it is essential to contact a criminal defense attorney who is a fierce legal advocate. Never is our vast years of legal experience and commitment to providing patient, personalized service to each client we serve more critical than when we represent the most vulnerable. If you suffer from a mental health issue and have been charged with a crime in Dallas or North Texas, contact our team at Madson Castello Law now. 

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