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Mental Health and Criminal Defense

James B. Bennett Law Office Nov. 28, 2023

Gavel with stand and handcuffs on the wooden backgroundI understand that facing criminal charges can be incredibly overwhelming, especially when you're also grappling with mental health issues. Please know that you're not alone in this journey — at James B. Bennett Law Office, I'm here to guide you through the complexities of this situation and explore every potential avenue to lessen your charges, including how your mental health may play a role in your case.  

I proudly assist clients in El Dorado, Arkansas, and throughout all of south Arkansas. Reach out today to discuss your case during a free initial consultation.

Mental Health Disorders Experienced by Criminal Defendants

In my experience, there are several mental health disorders that are particularly prevalent among prisoners. These include: 

  • Depression: This pervasive disorder can significantly affect a person's mood, causing persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest in activities. It's not uncommon among prisoners and can sometimes contribute to criminal behavior. 

  • Anxiety Disorders: Conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder can severely impact an individual's decision-making abilities, potentially leading to criminal actions. 

  • Substance Use Disorders: Many prisoners struggle with substance abuse, which can exacerbate other mental health issues and significantly influence their behavior. 

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Many individuals in prison have experienced traumatic events, leading to PTSD, which can have a profound effect on their mental state and behavior. 

  • Bipolar Disorder: This disorder causes extreme mood swings from depressive lows to manic highs. During manic episodes, individuals might make risky decisions or demonstrate aggressive behavior, potentially leading to legal complications. 

  • Schizophrenia: This is a severe mental health condition where individuals may have difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what isn’t. Misinterpretations of reality can potentially lead to actions that result in criminal charges. 

Mental Health as a Defense

Understanding how a defendant's mental health condition influenced their actions at the time of the alleged crime is crucial. Mental health disorders can influence a person's behavior and decision-making, sometimes leading to criminal charges. In some instances, these conditions can be considered in your defense. Here are some key points to consider: 

  • Criminal Intent: Also known as "mens rea," this is a crucial element in many crimes. If a mental health disorder impaired your ability to form the necessary criminal intent, it might be used to question the validity of the charge. 

  • Careless Behavior: Some mental health disorders can lead to unintentional or careless actions. If your actions were a direct result of your mental health condition and not a conscious decision to break the law, this could potentially be used in your defense. 

  • Specific Intent Crimes: For these types of crimes, the prosecution must prove that you had a specific purpose in mind when engaging in illegal conduct. If your mental health disorder can be shown to have impaired your ability to form this specific intent, it could be a crucial part of your defense. 

  • Mistakes of Fact: Sometimes, a mental health disorder can lead to misunderstandings or mistakes of fact, which can negate mens rea. If this is applicable in your situation, we can explore this as a potential defense strategy. 

  • Strict Liability Laws: These laws do not require mens rea, meaning the prosecution doesn’t need to prove you intended to commit the crime. However, depending on your circumstances, we might still be able to argue that your mental health condition affected your behavior. 

How to Prove a Mental Health Claim

Establishing a mental health claim in a criminal defense case involves a multifaceted process. Key steps include: 

  1. Presenting expert testimony to support the claim 

  2. Providing detailed medical records 

  3. Demonstrating how the mental health disorder affected the defendant's behavior and ability to form criminal intent.

Sentencing and Rights of Prisoners With Mental Health Disorders

The legal system can be particularly challenging for individuals struggling with these conditions, especially when it comes to sentencing and the rights of prisoners with mental health disorders. Here are some crucial points to consider: 

  • Sentencing Considerations: In some cases, a diagnosed mental health disorder may influence sentencing. For instance, judges might take into account the defendant's mental health status during the sentencing phase and possibly recommend treatment instead of, or in addition to, incarceration. 

  • Access to Mental Health Care: Prisoners have a constitutional right to healthcare, which includes mental health services. This means that if you have a diagnosed mental health disorder, you should receive appropriate care while incarcerated. 

  • Accommodations for Mental Health Disorders: Prisons are required to provide reasonable accommodations for inmates with mental health disorders under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This could include therapy, medication, or other necessary treatments. 

  • Diversion Programs: Some jurisdictions have mental health courts or diversion programs that focus on treatment rather than punishment for individuals with mental health disorders. These programs aim to address the root cause of the criminal behavior, offering a more rehabilitative approach. 

  • Advocacy and Legal Representation: It's essential for prisoners with mental health disorders to have strong legal representation. As your attorney, I can advocate for your rights, ensure you're receiving proper care, and work towards the most favorable outcome for your situation. 

Navigating the criminal justice system with a mental health disorder can be challenging. However, when you work with the James B. Bennett Law Office, I will gladly stand by your side every step of the way. 

Rely on Strong Legal Representation

When facing criminal charges where mental health is a factor, it's crucial to have robust legal representation. As the lead attorney at James B. Bennett Law Office, I'm committed to navigating these intricate issues, safeguarding your rights, and helping you receive fair treatment throughout the legal process. Understanding the impact of mental health disorders on criminal defense cases is key to working towards the best possible outcome. Contact me today to learn how I can help you navigate the criminal justice system with confidence.