When A Defendant Doesn’t Know What They’re Doing Due To Mental Illness

While we all need to be held accountable for our actions, there are circumstances that make it impossible for someone to really understand their own actions. A defendant may have committed an act, but may not have realized that what they were doing was wrong, given their mental state.

At Bellwoar Kelly, LLP, we understand how a person’s state of mind or mental health status can affect their interpretation of events. This can cause them to act or react differently than someone who has full mental capacity.

Understanding The Insanity Defense

First and foremost, a person must be shown to be competent to stand trial. If a person is not competent, then that person cannot be convicted of a crime. Treatment may then be administered in the hopes of restoring them to competency. The “insanity defense” can be used when it can be proved that the defendant either did not know they were committing a crime or didn’t realize the act was wrong due to their mental illness.

What Is Culpability?

A defendant must know what they are doing when committing a crime. This is known as culpability. If someone is not able to understand their own actions at the time the crime was committed, they cannot be culpable. If a person suffers from a serious mental illness, it is likely that this person was unaware of their own actions.

A person must also understand that what they are doing is wrong. If they do not or cannot understand this, they cannot be found guilty. An example of this may be a person who suffers from schizophrenia. If this person was told by voices or who they believed to be God to do something, they were then unaware that it was wrong to do so.

An Irresistible Impulse To Act

A person who suffers from PTSD may react strongly to fireworks or loud pops or bangs. They may not be able to control their behavior when they are subjected to loud noises. So, even though they know that driving at high rates of speed, jumping from a moving vehicle or using a firearm may be wrong, they may have an irresistible impulse to act when suddenly exposed to loud noises.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

There are many mental health issues that may cause a person to behave in an extreme manner. Many people who have experienced severe trauma or who have served active military duty are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD can cause disturbing thoughts and feelings. Many sufferers of PTSD have recurring nightmares, sleep problems and flashbacks. PTSD can cause a person to feel estranged or detached from people or reality. This can influence how a person reacts to a perceived threat.

Other mental health issues including major depression, panic disorder, autism spectrum disorder and others can all contribute to a person’s perception of a situation and their reaction to that perceived reality. Our team has extensive experience with a broad range of criminal charges, including serving the need of those who struggle with mental illness.

Have A Free Discussion About Mental Health With Us | Phones Answered 24/7

If you have been charged with a crime and need to understand your rights, call us now at 610-314-7066. We offer experienced insight into how the legal system treats those who suffer from mental illness. You can reach our team online as well. We have offices in both West Chester and Pottstown, and we represent clients across Pennsylvania. We are able to meet with you at the jail, police station or another convenient location.