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Mental Health and Criminal Defense

The Law Offices of John Della Rocca March 24, 2023

If you are facing a criminal charge in Pennsylvania that you believe was affected by any mental health struggles, it is important that you understand how mental health can be used as a defense. Mental health issues are more common than you may think, and if you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, it is crucial to consider all your legal options. 

At The Law Offices of John Della Rocca, I help clients identify all of the defense strategies that may be available to them depending on the details of their case. If you wonder if you can use mental health as a defense in your case, reach out to my office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for a free case evaluation. I also serve clients in surrounding areas, including Montgomery County, Delaware County, Chester County, Bucks County, and communities throughout New Jersey.  

Common Mental Health Disorders  

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 1 in 25 people in the United States live with a serious mental illness. Mental illness can manifest itself in many different forms. The most common types of mental illnesses that could potentially be used as part of your criminal defense are bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These conditions can impair an individual’s judgment and decision-making abilities outside of their control, and they could potentially be used as part of a criminal defense argument. 

Mental Health as a Defense  

In the state of Pennsylvania, there are two ways that mental health can be used as part of your criminal defense strategy: 

  1. Criminal Responsibility. This means that because of the effects of their mental illness on their behavior at the time of the crime, they should not be held liable for any actions taken.  

  1. Ability to Stand Trial. The second way involves determining whether or not the defendant was competent to stand trial at the time they committed their alleged crime. This means that they must have had enough understanding to comprehend the nature and consequences of their actions and assist counsel in preparing their own defense. 

Proving Mental Health Claims  

If you or someone close to you is considering using mental health as part of their criminal defense strategy, it is essential to consult with a skilled criminal defense attorney who has experience defending clients with mental health issues.   

A lawyer will help assess your situation and determine whether or not there is sufficient evidence to support such a claim. Typically, this includes providing medical records from qualified professionals such as psychiatrists or psychologists that document any diagnosis made regarding your condition at the time of the alleged crime.  

It is also important for your attorney to consider any prior history related to similar behaviors before making any decisions about whether or not this type of claim would be beneficial for your case.  

Sentencing for Individuals with Mental Health Disorders in Pennsylvania  

The criminal justice system in Pennsylvania recognizes two court diversion options for individuals with mental health disorders:  

  1. Diversion program for misdemeanors. This diversion program applies to individuals who have been found legally incompetent to represent themselves in their criminal case because of a mental illness. To be eligible, the individual with a mental health issue must be serving a sentence or have an active case pending. 

  1. Diversion program for felonies. This program is also known as a “re-entry” program for individuals serving a sentence or probation for non-violent felonies. Through this program, eligible individuals are prepared for re-entry into community-based treatment programs.  

Depending on the details of your case, there may be other alternatives to incarceration if you or your loved one is suffering from a mental health issue. Consider speaking with an experienced attorney to discuss your options.  

Fighting for You and Protecting Your Rights  

Mental illness can have serious implications when it comes to defending yourself against criminal charges in Pennsylvania. By understanding how mental illness can play into legal proceedings, individuals accused of crimes can make informed decisions about what type of legal strategies may best help them fight their case successfully. Reach out to my law firm – The Law Offices of John Della Rocca – to discuss your particular situation. Get in touch today for a free consultation.