Hands with handcuffs on the table

Mental Health and Criminal Defense

Law Offices of Thomas R. Cox III May 30, 2023

People with mental health issues have often been portrayed as dangerous criminals. However, this uninformed take couldn’t be farther from the truth. Often, social and economic issues can trigger a mental health crisis that leads to an arrest for a criminal offense. When that happens, it’s important for a defendant to have quality legal representation.  

At the Law Offices of Thomas R. Cox III, Attorney Cox will fight for your rights after a criminal charge. He can help you understand your specific situation, and whether mental health can be a defense for committing the crime you’ve been charged with. If you are in the Dallas, Texas, area—including Mesquite, Highland Park, Irving, Grand Prairie, and more—reach out today to schedule a meeting with Attorney Cox

Common Mental Health Disorders

According to the National Institutes of Health, Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) is perhaps the most common mental health disorder found in prisoners. However, researchers note that psychologists often throw this term around arbitrarily, and some prisoners diagnosed with APD may not actually have it. APD usually surfaces around age 15 and can present symptoms such as: 

  • lack of concern for rules; 

  • manipulative behavior; 

  • inability to control anger; 

  • difficulty maintaining long-term relationships; and,  

  • lack of guilt. 

However other common mental health disorders can also influence people’s actions and therefore be used as a defense. Some of these disorders include: 

  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) 

  • Depression 

  • Anxiety 

  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 

  • Schizophrenia 

  • Psychosis 

  • & More 

Mental Health as a Defense and Competency to Stand Trial

Additionally, Texas courts may find that a mentally unwell defendant does not have the competency to stand trial. In this case, the court will appoint a “competency evaluator” to assess the defendant’s mental health. These mental health evaluations will determine whether or not the defendant is mentally capable enough to stand trial and potentially go to jail. If the evaluator finds that the defendant isn’t capable, they’ll recommend the court send the defendant to a mental health facility. This is commonly known as an “insanity defense.” 

Insanity Defense: Proving a Mental Health Claim

For the state to convict a defendant of a crime, they must prove a legal concept of “mens rea.” This term comes a Latin phrase meaning “guilty mind.” Often, a mentally unwell defendant can claim an insanity defense base on several different factors that prove they never possessed mens rea, including: 

  • Crimes requiring the defendant to act “maliciously” or “willfully:” The defendant was acting in a specific way to intentionally cause an illegal outcome. 

  • Crimes that need the defendant to be acting “knowingly:” Some crimes require a defendant to know what they’re doing and understand that it’s wrong. 

  • Crimes requiring “specific intent:” For example, a crime that stipulates that a defendant must have been acting to trigger an exact outcome. 

While not all criminal charges require the prosecution to prove mens rea, many do. A criminal defense attorney can help their defendant understand the possible defenses in their mental health claim, including how insanity can play into mens rea. 

Sentencing and Rights of Prisoners With Mental Health Disorders

The state of Texas may recognize their mental health as a mitigating factor in their case. This means that the court may give a defendant a more lenient sentence based on their mental health, or alternative sentencing. If a defendant has been charged with a crime and they believe their mental health played a part, they should speak with a criminal defense attorney to determine whether they can claim it as a mitigating factor in their sentencing. 

Helping You Every Step of the Way

If you’re searching for a defense attorney to represent your mental health-related case accurately in court, choose the Law Offices of Thomas R Cox, III. Attorney Tom Cox can explain your case to the District Attorney in a way that can improve their understanding of your situation or exploit weaknesses in their case. He recognizes you’re a victim of circumstances and will even bond you out of jail. Schedule a consultation today to learn more