Effects of Mental Incapacity in Sentencing

It is not unusual for people with mental disabilities and disorders to find themselves facing the criminal justice system. A person who is mentally incapacitated may face a judge for a variety of reasons, such as homelessness or refusal to take medications.

State and federal courts approach the issue of mental incapacity differently. However, a person’s mental disorder will affect the criminal sentencing process by either serving as a mitigating factor or by postponing sentencing. Generally, the federal courts address mental incapacity in their sentencing protocols. A specific section of the guidelines exists to mitigate or lessen the criminal sentence for a mentally ill individual. A criminal defense attorney in a state court may be able to more freely explore alternatives to traditional sentencing.

Mental Health Experts

In sentencing, a mental health expert may be able to provide several different services, such as:

  • Advising the court about an medical treatments that the defendant needs
  • Explaining the exact nature of a person’s mental illness to a judge or jury
  • Helping a defense attorney relate to his client

A mental health expert has the ability to explain these different factors to a judge. When more information is available to a judge, he may be able to formulate a more appropriate sentence.

In some cases, a mental health expert may not be appointed by a court to testify on the defendant’s behalf. For example, the court may find that a mental expert is not necessary for a misdemeanor crime. However, a criminal defense attorney may still be able to present a mental health evaluation to the judge.

Delayed Sentencing

People who suffer from mental illnesses often face postponed sentencing. A postponed sentencing allows the defendant to receive treatment. Depending on the severity of the crime, a defendant may either be placed in a residential treatment facility or be allowed to participate in outpatient therapy. The sentencing continues when a defendant is competent is again.

In certain cases, a judge may implement a deferred adjudication. This means that a judge will sentence the defendant later and may even dismiss the case. A dismissal will depend on the defendant’s willingness to seek and accept for his disorder.

For more information on mental incapacity as it relates to the criminal process, meet with The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp.