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The Impact of Mental Health on Criminal Defense Cases

By stladmin on August 10, 2023

Mental Health focus. Two people sitting on the floor and touching hands in support

In recent years, society’s recognition of the significance and impact of mental health has grown. Developments in psychology and psychiatry have given us a better understanding of what goes on in the mind and how it affects our behavior. Accordingly, the impact of mental health on the mind can be a vital consideration when determining someone’s responsibility for their actions, particularly when it comes to criminal responsibility.

Understanding Mental Health Issues

Our understanding of mental health has evolved. Mental disorders can exert a powerful influence on an individual’s actions. Conditions such as depression, anxiety, addiction, and bipolar disorder can impair a person’s judgment and ability to engage with reality. Dissociative disorders such as schizophrenia can interfere with an individual’s ability to control their actions.

In criminal cases, the prosecution may need to prove the accused’s mental state. An individual’s mental health is important when determining whether someone is guilty of a crime or the extent to which they should be held responsible for their actions.

Wyoming Legal Framework

Wyoming law contemplates the impact mental health has on an individual’s ability to stand trial (competency) and an accused’s responsibility for their actions (insanity). Wyoming allows for mental health evaluations in criminal cases, assessing the defendant’s mental state at the time of the alleged offense. In some cases, individuals with mental health disorders may receive treatment and rehabilitation instead of incarceration as a sentencing option.

Competency to Stand Trial

The issue of competency to stand trial concerns the defendant’s ability to understand the charges against them and effectively defend themselves at trial. Specifically, Wyoming Statues section 7-11-303 requires a written report of examination regarding whether the accused “lacks capacity[:]

  • To comprehend his position,
  • To understand the nature and object of the proceedings against him
  • To conduct his defense in a rational manner, and
  • To cooperate with his counsel to the end that any available defense may be interposed.”

For example, an individual who suffers from delusions may lack the capacity to understand the charges and them because they cannot differentiate between reality and their distorted understanding of the events in question.

In cases where competency is at issue, the defendant must offer evidence supporting their lack of capacity to stand trial, such as expert testimony from a mental health examiner qualified to do so by the state. Additionally, expert witnesses from other mental health professionals may testify as to the validity of the procedures employed in examining the mental health of the accused.

Insanity Defense in Wyoming

Pursuant to Wyoming Statutes section 7-11-305, “every defendant is presumed to be mentally responsible. The defendant shall have the burden of going forward and proving by the greater weight of evidence that, as a result of mental illness or deficiency, he lacked the capacity either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.”

Accordingly, a criminal defendant seeking to raise insanity as a defense must also provide proof regarding their capacity, such as the expert testimony of a mental health professional or extensive medical records documenting their history of mental illness.

Mitigating Mental Health Evidence in Sentencing

In the event that the accused is found guilty at trial, their mental health may still be raised as an issue affecting their sentencing. Mental health can be a vital consideration in mitigating the severity of a defendant’s sentence. Judges may consider an individual’s history of mental illness, treatment options, and prospects for rehabilitation when determining their sentence. For example, the court may factor in a person’s PTSD and associated addiction when sentencing them for a substance abuse-related crime.

Individuals with mental health issues can take advantage of mental health diversion programs, where a person is diverted toward treatment rather than incarceration. Participation in such a program may be appropriate where evidence of the history of mental illness is presented during sentencing. For example, evidence that an individual’s actions resulted from a manic episode associated with bipolar disorder may allow the option of undergoing medical treatment instead of incarceration.

Speak with an Experienced Wyoming Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing criminal charges in Campbell County and suspect that your conduct was the result of mental illness, don’t hesitate to consult a knowledgeable Gillette criminal defense lawyer.

Steven Titus & Associates, P.C. serves to provide Wyoming residents with competent, experienced legal counsel and represents a vast majority of criminal defendants who need legal representation. As a former state public defender, head attorney Steven Titus knows the ins and outs of the Wyoming criminal justice system.

Our skilled Gillette criminal defense legal team can help gather evidence of your mental health as part of a comprehensive defense strategy so that you can face your charges with confidence.

Reach out to us at (307) 257-7800 for a free consultation today.

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