What if You Committed a Crime While Having a Psychiatric Episode?

April 17, 2023

Mental illness is a common problem in Texas. According to the National Institutes of Health, experts estimate that one in five Americans suffers from mental illness, ranging from mild to serious. While many people assume that people with psychiatric illnesses are more likely to commit crimes or acts of violence, this isn’t true. But people with mental illness face bias in the criminal justice system and are more likely to be arrested, charged, and jailed at higher rates. However, some people with mental illness are more likely to commit crimes if their illness goes untreated, including those actively experiencing delusions or having long-standing paranoia.

Mental illness can involve disturbances to emotions and thought processes, which can be episodic, cyclic, or temporary. But in some cases, mental illness can prevent people from making informed decisions about a crime they may have committed and contributing to their defense. That’s why if you or someone you love has a mental illness and faces a criminal charge, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.

Mental Illness and Criminal Culpability

Texas law, recognizing the impact of severe mental illness on a person’s ability to make reasoned decisions, contains an affirmative defense for mental illness. An affirmative defense is one that, if proven in court with evidence, can negate your culpability for a crime even if the court finds that you committed the alleged acts.

Under Texas law, “it is an affirmative defense to prosecution that, at the time of the conduct charged, the actor, as a result of severe mental disease or defect, did not know that his conduct was wrong.” Tex. Crim. Code § 8.01(a) (1994). But the law excludes an “abnormality manifested only by repeated criminal or otherwise antisocial conduct” from the definition of “mental disease or defect.” In some cases, even if your mental illness does not relieve your legal liability for a crime, it may still be a mitigating circumstance. In other words, your lawyer may urge the prosecutor, judge, or jury to consider your illness, resulting in a lesser charge or a more lenient sentence.

Mental Illness and Competence to Stand Trial

In some cases, a mental illness can interfere with your ability to make informed decisions about issues fundamental to your case, including accepting a plea bargain, participating in your defense, and communicating effectively with your lawyer. Your lawyer may ask the court for a competency evaluation in these situations.

Typically, you are presumed to be competent to stand trial. But under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure:

A person is incompetent to stand trial if the person does not have the following:

  1. sufficient present ability to consult with the person’s lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding; or
  2. a rational and factual understanding of the proceedings against the person.

Tex. Code Crim. Pro. § 46B.003 (2004). If your lawyer believes you may be incompetent to stand trial, they can bring a motion before the judge for an evaluation, or the court can do so independently. The court can perform an informal inquiry in court, and if the court believes there is evidence of your incompetency, they can stay all proceedings in the case. The court also has the power to dismiss all charges in the case at any time after anyone raises the issue of your competency to stand trial. However, if you or someone you love is facing mental illness and a criminal charge, your best bet for a positive resolution is to hire an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney.

Get Help from an Experienced Defense Attorney in Weatherford, TX

When you are facing criminal charges, you’ll want the very best legal representation available. Call the Law Office of Kenneth W Mullen PC today at (817) 341-4848 or contact us online for a free consultation.


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