Defendants With Mental Disorders


In most cases, only a very specific set of circumstances can alter the sentence of a defendant after he has been convicted of a crime. Mental incapacity falls within the strict definition of circumstances that are legally allowed to affect the terms or severity of a defendant’s sentence. There are both state and federal guidelines that dictate how someone who has been deemed mentally incapacitated should be sentenced. Some state courts may choose to follow the federal regulations while others may not.

The Effects of Mental Incapacity on Sentencing

When determining a sentence, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines provide a framework that federal courts use to ensure a just punishment. These guidelines are structured around a system that uses points to indicate the severity of a crime and the corresponding severity of the sentence.

Some things can be brought to the court’s attention that will affect how the sentence is passed down. These special circumstances are known as mitigating factors. One of the ways that mental incapacity can affect a sentence is when it causes a condition known as diminished capacity. This condition refers to a state of mind where a defendant was incapable of understanding the nature of their actions when they committed a crime. Psychological and mental conditions are some of the most common causes of diminished capacity.

Usually, an attorney who is representing a defendant who is making a claim of diminished capacity will make the cause of the claim known at the early stages of a trial. However, there are some cases where a defendant did not develop a psychological condition until after the start of the trial. There are also some instances when a defendant will not display any symptoms, and their condition will only be diagnosed after court proceedings have begun.

When these circumstances arise, most state and federal laws call for sentencing to be postponed until sufficient evidence has been presented to prove that the defendant has recovered from their mental incapacitation to the point where they can understand the sentence. Usually, a hearing will be held to determine the defendant’s capability to understand the nature of the sentence being handed down. This hearing can be formally requested by the defendant’s attorney or by the prosecution. If the judge suspects that the defendant may be suffering from a mental illness, he or she can order the hearing.

The defendant will either be ordered to resume sentencing after they have recovered, or they will be deemed unable to recover. If unable to recover, the defendant will undergo a civil proceeding that will declare them incompetent and order their commitment to an institution or long-term care facility.

For more information about mental incapacity and its effects on criminal sentencing, speak to Madrid Law at 713-877-9400.

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