Mental Health Defense Lawyer in Houston, TX

Mental health issues can play a significant role in crime and certain psychiatric issues can increase a person’s risk of committing a crime. Research supports this, suggesting that individuals with mental illness may be more prone to violence if they do not receive adequate support and treatment.

As society begins to accept, acknowledge, and address mental health issues, the law follows suit. Texas Health and Human Services has released a comprehensive report of the state laws relating to mental health, which reflects a wide range of legislative and judicial changes to the laws surrounding crime and mental health.

The law is constantly adapting to adhere to new practices and information regarding mental health criminal defense. Nathaniel Pitoniak is an experienced mental health lawyer, who knows how to effectively handle mental health criminal defense cases.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime due to mental health, you are not alone. Call us today at (832) 315-6283 to learn more about your rights and ensure fair treatment under the law.

Can I Beat a Criminal Charge Due to Mental Health?

It is possible for individuals charged with a criminal offense to defend their case on the basis of mental health. Mental health can lead to behavior that is out of character and influenced by underlying health concerns. Texas State Courts recognize this, and accept mental health issues as a viable defense against criminal charges.

Broadly, this type of defense can take a few forms:

  • Incompetency defense
  • Insanity defense

Mental health attorneys generally opt for one of these two types of mental health defense, depending on the unique circumstances of the case. In some situations, the individual charged with a criminal offense may be deemed unfit to stand trial or, in more severe cases, may not be held legally responsible for the crime.

What is Incompetency to Stand Trial?

One viable defense strategy is claiming that a defendant is not mentally fit or well to stand trial. Texas Law refers to this as incompetency, but for the defense to successfully use this defense strategy, incompetency must be proven. In order for a defendant to be deemed competent, the law necessitates that two requirements be met:

  • The defendant demonstrates a sufficient ability to consult with their attorney with a reasonable level of understanding
  • Rationally and factually, the defendant understands the proceedings against them

If these two requirements are met, the defendant will be seen as competent and mentally fit to stand trial. Therefore, if the defense can prove that one or both of these factors are not met, incompetency may be raised as a viable defense strategy. Incompetency is typically proven through evaluations by mental health experts. These professionals can be appointed by both the defense as well as the courts, and typically both are called upon to provide a holistic understanding of the defendant’s level of competency.

The laws surrounding mental health cases can be quite difficult to navigate, especially because each case is highly complex and unique. Using incompetency as a mental health defense hinges on more than obvious, explicit facts – it depends largely on human behavior, and therefore varies greatly from case to case. Individuals who are found incompetent will not face the same legal consequences as competent defendants. The Texas legal system may suggest that the defendant seek treatment at an inpatient or residential facility, jail-based restoration program, or outpatient rehabilitation.

Any defendant who wishes to pursue a mental health defense is advised to seek legal assistance. Mental health criminal defense attorneys who are well-versed in this area of law are equipped to handle these cases with skill and expertise. At the Law Office of Nathaniel Pitoniak, we have successfully navigated these cases and implemented mental health defenses for our clients. Call us today to find out how.

What is the Insanity Defense?

Criminal law, by default, assumes that individuals are sane, aware, and capable of differentiating between legal and illegal behavior. Texas Penal Code §8.01(a) stipulates that if an individual does not know that their conduct was wrong as a result of severe mental disease or defect, then this is a valid defense against prosecution. In such cases, a defendant can be found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.

To determine insanity, Texas Penal Code follows the M’Naughten Test. This test questions whether or not the defendant was able to understand whether their actions were right or wrong at the time the act was committed. Therefore, using the M’Naughten Test, the defendant can successfully call upon the insanity defense if they can prove that mental illness prevented them from understanding that their actions were criminal. This must be supported by a “preponderance of evidence.” Preponderance of evidence is a legal burden of proof that requires a greater than 50% chance that the claim is true. If this burden of proof is met by the defendant, the insanity defense may be successful.

In cases involving dangerous conduct, a defendant found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity will be committed for treatment at a maximum security facility. The amount of time that a defendant can be committed depends entirely on their crime. The amount of time that a defendant can be committed cannot exceed the maximum prison sentence related to their offense. More serious offenses, like first degree felonies, may result in lifelong commitment.

Alternatively, when no dangerous conduct was present, the defendant will be detained for a civil commitment proceeding. Regardless of the outcome, however, the jury cannot be informed of the consequences following the Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity verdict.

How Can a Criminal Attorney Help with Mental Health Defense?

The laws and case history surrounding mental health are highly nuanced and complex. To raise either a mental health defense or an insanity defense, there are very specific procedures, administrative thresholds, and evidentiary requirements that must be met. Because of this complexity, it can be difficult to successfully raise such a defense against a criminal charge.

For these reasons, seeking legal assistance from specialized mental health defense attorneys can help greatly. There are not many attorneys, however, who possess the qualifications and background necessary to successfully use the mental health defense.

Nathaniel Pitoniak has extensive experience in mental health defense. He has successfully litigated several mental health-based cases, and provides his clients with advice and counsel to ensure that they are treated justly under the law.

If you or a loved one struggles with mental health and has been charged with a crime, do not hesitate to take action. Your livelihood may depend on it. Call us today at (832) 315-6283 to talk with a mental health criminal defense lawyer today.