Mental Health Defenses to Crimes: Know the Differences

Facing criminal charges, especially when involving mental health conditions like autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disabilities, or developmental disabilities, can be overwhelming and distressing. It’s crucial to understand the legal processes and available defenses.

When charged with a crime, determining the defendant’s competency to stand trial is the first step. Competency refers to the ability to comprehend the court proceedings and assist in one’s defense. This assessment is particularly significant for juveniles, who may lack legal competence due to their age. If deemed incompetent, individuals undergo restoration through therapy, medication, or education. Successful restoration enables the trial to proceed; otherwise, charges may be dismissed.

Distinct from competency, sanity pertains to whether the defendant, due to mental illness, lacked the capacity to comprehend the wrongdoing or control their actions. A finding of insanity results in a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, leading to referral for mental health treatment rather than imprisonment. This defense applies exclusively to mental illness, not developmental or intellectual disabilities.

Moreover, individuals with mental health or developmental conditions may assert a defense based on their inability to form criminal intent due to their condition.

Additionally, many courts offer mental health diversion programs tailored to individuals who can benefit from supportive services. Completion of such programs often leads to reduced or dismissed charges.

At WMM Legal, our attorneys specialize in navigating the intersection of criminal law and mental health, including autism spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities. We also provide counsel for Mental Health Diversion dockets. If you or a loved one is facing the criminal justice system with a mental health condition or disability, reach out to us at 804-423-1382 for assistance.