The legal system’s response to individuals with mental health concerns has been a subject of ongoing debate and criticism. There’s a lot of work to do, but the fact is people with a history of mental illness face challenges others don’t. Their view of the world can be different, which means their understanding of the criminal justice system could be lacking.

Too often, people with mental conditions are criminalized rather than receive proper care. The National Alliance of Mental Illness reports that nearly 2 in 5 people behind bars across the U.S. have a history of mental illness. Too often, these incarcerations stem from the offender’s inability to process why they were on trial.

Mental health is a delicate and complex issue, but knowing how the Texas criminal justice system approaches mental illness is critical if you or a loved one are charged.

How Texas Approaches Criminal Charges

Under Texas law, generally, people can be accused of a crime if the prosecution can show that they intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence committed illegal activity.

Intentionally means the act was the person’s conscious objective or desire. Knowingly means the person is aware of their conduct or that their conduct is reasonably certain to cause the result. Recklessly means the person is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur.

Disregarding that risk must be a “gross deviation” from what an ordinary person would do. Finally, criminal negligence means the person ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk, and their failure to perceive it is a “gross deviation” from what an ordinary person would do.

If you find this confusing, you aren’t the only one. Criminal charges are nuanced and complicated.

How Mental Health Factors into Criminal Charges

Mental health can affect a criminal case in many ways. The most commonly talked about is insanity. In Texas, a person is not guilty by reason of insanity if, at the time of the crime, due to a “mental disease or defect,” they don’t perceive their actions as wrong.

Think of a person who is actively delusional and hallucinating. If they see a person walking by them but hallucinate that the person is attacking them unjustifiably, they might be not guilty by reason of insanity for attacking the person because they thought they were defending themselves.

Regardless of what a person’s mental state was at the time of the crime if during prosecution for that crime they don’t understand what’s going on and/or can’t effectively communicate with their lawyer to aid in their defense due to mental illness, they are “incompetent.”

A person must be competent to stand trial to be prosecuted. If the court deems a person incompetent, the prosecution is put on hold while they receive mental health care. Unlike insanity, however, once the person understands and can communicate with their lawyer effectively again, they can be prosecuted.

Can Mental Health be Used as a Defense?

It is possible to use a mental illness diagnosis as a defense against criminal actions. However, it’s not a “get out of jail free” card. Mental health can be a mitigating factor. A judge, jury, or prosecutor could believe the person intentionally committed the crime, understood that what they were doing was wrong, and is competent – but their mental illness justifies a lesser punishment.

Another example of a way mental health can be used to defend against prosecution is diversion programs like pretrial intervention for mental health. Some counties – like Dallas – have mental health diversion programs.

These programs accept people with mental illness who meet the program’s criteria. The program is designed to treat their mental illness to not only make them better but also make the entire community a safer place. Once the person successfully completes the program, the prosecutor may dismiss the criminal charge completely. Some of the programs can lead to a full expunction of the arrest and criminal charge completely.

A skilled Texas criminal defense attorney can explain how affirmative defenses could affect your case and everything you need to consider as your criminal trial proceeds.

The Law Office of Mike Howard Cares About Your Health and Wellness

It can be difficult to understand how to interact with the law, a mental illness has a complicated relationship with the criminal justice system. If you or a loved one has a history of mental illness and have been charged with a crime, contact Dallas defense lawyer Mike Howard.

Mike has helped many clients when they’ve faced criminal charges related to a mental health crisis or issues. He understands that highlighting how a mental illness contributed to or ruled the actions that resulted in an arrest can help your case. Mike can explore your case, dealing with sensitive information in a way that doesn’t paint you negatively and help craft a defense that suits you best.

Call our office at (214) 296-2221 or use our online form to schedule your free consultation today.

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