Could Mental Illness Result in A Lesser Criminal Sentence?

by dave on August 21, 2012

in Criminal Justice

When a judge goes to sentence a convicted person, they have a lot to take into consideration. One of these things is frequently the mental health of the offender. Researchers from the University of Utah set out to discover how exactly a mental health diagnosis and a complex biological explanation of such a diagnosis could affect a sentence. What they found is truly interesting.

According to “The double-edged sword: Does biomechanism increase or decrease judges’ sentencing of psychopaths,published in this month’s Science journal, simply labeling the defendant a “psychopath” has a tendency to add years to their sentence. However, giving the judge a neurobiologist’s explanation for that diagnosis at the time of sentencing had the opposite effect—reducing their subsequent sentence.

“Our sympathy for the idea that biology might be responsible for criminal behavior is powerful,” according to NPR.

In general, whether you’re a judge or not, you want criminals to have a justification for their actions. You want to know that there was something that can be pinpointed as causing their behavior, and nothing is so concrete as a medical diagnosis and a biological explanation.

Saying there is something flawed within the brain, an actual physical defect, does far more to garner sympathy than saying someone had a bad day. And when defense attorneys go so far as to include an analysis from a biological expert, showing the condition isn’t just “mental” but also has a biological foundation, the effects are telling.

In the study, judges were given the facts of a case and told the defendant was a psychopath. That label immediately garnered an additional five years on the sentence. But the biological explanation of psychopath seemed to drop one year off of the recommended sentence.

In the case the researchers based their study off of, a murderer who had been diagnosed as psychopathic was originally sentenced to the death penalty. He appealed arguing his lawyer didn’t seek a MAOA defect test (that would find the biological basis for his mental problems.) He was granted the appeal and had his sentence reduced from the death penalty to life in prison. Unfortunately, another court determined the Appeals Court was wrong and he was eventually executed in 2005.

The findings are still very telling and should be noted by defense lawyers arguing the cases of the mentally ill.

Your mental status at the time of a crime can play a big role in your case. Whether you are accused of something like disorderly conduct or assault,  your mental health could mean the difference between multiple years in prison, or receiving treatment instead. If you are charged with a crime, let us put you in contact with a local criminal defense lawyer today.


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  • Michelle Gaswint

    I have never been in trouble I have bad credit so a dealership was working with me and a manager employee told me to meet him on Sunday afternoon and he would help me out because I couldn’t come Saturday he left the keys under the floor mate of 6 cars for me to check out and which one I liked is the one that he would do on a yes program for me well instead local cops were called and said that there was a report of me trying to steal Car’s

  • Michelle Gaswint

    Which was a lie so now I’m in all kinds of trouble for no reason!! Police wouldn’t listen to me

  • Justice Reports

    Clearly you need a lawyer now that the police are involved. And your lawyer needs to reach out to the manager employee and get the facts. Good luck!

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