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Mental Health and Criminal Defense

Panhandle Defense Firm Sept. 21, 2023

Handcuffs laying on top of fingerprint chartIn recent years, there has been an ever-increasing acknowledgment of the significance and impact of mental health on people’s judgment and behavior. The medical community now has a better understanding of what goes on in the mind of a person who suffers from a mental health disorder, which broadens the defense opportunities in criminal cases.  

Tom McGuire at Panhandle Defense Firm is a fierce legal advocate for the rights of individuals with mental health conditions. As a former prosecutor, attorney Tom McGuire understands the importance of considering the defendant’s state of mind when determining responsibility for their actions. If you or someone you love is accused of a crime you believe was caused or affected by mental health struggles, the Pensacola-based attorney will take a personalized approach to your case and provide an informed evaluation of your situation.  

Contact Tom McGuire’s office in Pensacola, Florida, to request a free consultation. Panhandle Defense Firm also serves other parts of Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties, including Fort Walton Beach, Milton, and Crestview.  

Mental Health Disorders in Criminal Defendants

According to research published by the American Psychological Association, mental illness symptoms mostly or directly contribute to the cause of crime in an estimated up to 18% of criminal cases. Common mental health illnesses and disorders that may affect a person’s ability to control their behavior include: 

  • Schizophrenia 

  • Panic disorder 

  • Anxiety disorder 

  • Bipolar disorder 

  • Mood disorder 

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) 

  • Psychosis 

The symptoms of a mental health disorder may be mild, moderate, or severe and vary from one individual to another. However, being diagnosed with any of the above-mentioned or other mental health conditions does not necessarily mean the defendant will be able to successfully claim “insanity” as part of their defense.  

If you or someone you love is accused of committing a crime where mental health may have been a factor, speak with an attorney. Tom McGuire at Panhandle Defense Firm can evaluate every aspect of your situation and help you understand your defense options.  

Can Mental Health Be a Defense?

The legal term for using mental health as a defense is “insanity.” An insanity defense may be used when the defendant’s judgment and/or behavior is impaired by a mental health condition. When raising an insanity defense, the defendant’s defense attorney argues that their client lacks criminal intent and thus should not be punished because their behavior was driven by a mental health illness.  

Under Florida law, a defendant is legally insane in the eyes of the law if the following criteria are met:  

  • they have a mental health condition; and 

  • because of their mental health conditions, they (a) were not aware of what they were doing or the consequences of their conduct or (b) knew what they were doing and what consequences could arise but they did not know it was wrong.  

If the defendant has a mental health disorder or illness, their attorney could raise a defense to competency. Basically, it means that the defendant is not competent to stand trial because they are not capable of understanding the nature of the charges against them. In such cases, the court will typically order a mental health evaluation to determine the defendant’s mental state and competence.  

What Happens When an Insanity Defense Is Raised?

When an insanity defense is raised, the criminal trial includes two stages: 

  1. the court determines whether the defendant is guilty; and 

  1. if the defendant is found guilty, their case will proceed to trial where the insanity defense will be assessed by the jury.  

In cases where the defendant is acquitted by reason of insanity, they will typically be ordered to confinement in a mental health facility.  

The Consequences of Using an Insanity Defense

Before you argue that your mental health condition played a key role in you committing the crime you are accused of, it is important to understand the possible consequences of using an insanity defense:  

  1. If the jury does not agree you were insane during the commission of the crime and you are found guilty, you will most likely be sentenced as provided by law. 

  1. If the jury believes you were insane and you are found guilty, you will most likely be sent to a mental institution for the duration that is appropriate for your mental health disorder and your state of mind. 

  1. If the jury believes you were insane and you were found not competent to stand trial, your case will most likely be dismissed but you will still be sent to a mental institution for treatment.  

However, if your defense can prove that you were not guilty of the crime you are accused of, you will not be convicted regardless of whether the jury believes or rejects your insanity defense. An insanity defense has very specific criteria to satisfy, which is why it is vital that you weigh your options carefully before claiming to be insane. Being represented by an experienced criminal defense attorney can increase your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome.  

Protect Your Rights and Your Future

If you or someone you care about is accused of committing a crime that you believe was the result of mental health problems, do not hesitate to contact a criminal defense attorney. Tom McGuire can help evaluate whether your mental health may be a factor that should be considered as part of your defense. Reach out to Panhandle Defense Firm to request a free case evaluation and explore your defense options.