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Mental Health's Role in Criminal Defense Strategies

 Posted on April 17, 2024 in Arlington Heights

Northbrook criminal defense lawyerMental health plays a crucial role in criminal defense strategies, as it can significantly affect the outcome of a case. An Illinois lawyer will often consider the mental state of each client when developing a defense strategy.

The Insanity Defense

One of the most well-known mental health defenses is the insanity defense. In Illinois, a defendant can be found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) if there is proof that, at the time of the offense, the individual suffered from a mental disease or defect that rendered them unable to appreciate the criminality of the conduct or conform the behavior to the requirements of the law. If successful, the court may commit the defendant to a mental health facility for treatment instead of initiating a sentencing for prison.

Mens Rea and Diminished Capacity

Another way mental health can impact criminal defense is through the concept of "mens rea," or criminal intent. Most crimes require the prosecution to prove that the defendant had the necessary mental state to commit the offense. If a defendant's mental illness or defect prevented them from forming the requisite intent, the individual may be found not guilty or convicted of a lesser offense.

Related to this concept is the defense of diminished capacity. At the same time, not a complete defense, diminished capacity can be used to argue that the defendant's mental state was impaired to such a degree that there was no inability to form the specific intent required for the crime charged. This defense may result in a conviction for a lesser offense or a reduced sentence.

Mitigating Factors in Sentencing

Even if a mental health defense is unsuccessful in securing an acquittal, it can still play a significant role in sentencing. Judges must consider mitigating factors when determining an appropriate sentence. Mental illness, intellectual disability, or a history of trauma can all be presented as mitigating evidence to argue for a more lenient sentence.

Defense attorneys may work with mental health professionals to prepare comprehensive evaluations and treatment plans for the court. These reports can demonstrate the defendant's reduced guilt, potential for rehabilitation, and the benefits of alternative sentencing options, such as mental health treatment or specialized probation programs.

Competency to Stand Trial

Mental health can also impact a defendant's ability to stand trial. A defendant must be competent to stand trial, meaning they are able to understand the nature of the proceedings against them. If there are concerns about a defendant's competency, the court may order a mental health evaluation.

If a defendant is found unfit to stand trial, the criminal proceedings are suspended, and the defendant may be ordered to undergo treatment to restore competency. This process can involve medication, therapy, or placement in a mental health facility.

Contact a Northbrook, IL Criminal Defense Lawyer

Mental health is a critical consideration in criminal defense strategies. From the insanity defense to mitigating factors in sentencing, a defendant's mental state can influence the outcome of a case. A Lake County, IL criminal defense attorney can help you see if you may qualify for this strategy. Call The Law Offices of Matthew R. Gebhardt, P.C. at 847-239-4703 for a free consultation to potentially have someone on your side who has worked for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office as a prosecutor.

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