Mental Health Defenses

No family is more desperate, or in need of a champion, than when a mentally ill loved one is charged with a serious crime. Despite the recent advent of Mental Health Courts in some jurisdictions, judges and prosecutors are often poorly informed about mental illness and unsympathetic to the obstacles faced by mentally ill defendants charged with a crime. At Kilgore & Rodriguez, we have experience in handling mental health cases and a record of success in navigating the complexity of raising a mental health defense.

Maddox interviewed on WSB-TV after client found not guilty

Maddox interviewed on WSB-TV after client found not guilty

The initial consideration for a mentally ill defendant is whether he is competent to stand trial. In Georgia, a defendant is competent to stand trial if he has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding and he has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him. If competency is raised, the court will order a mental health professional at the Department of Behavioral Health to conduct an evaluation into defendant’s competency. A report will be provided to the court and attorney for the defendant.

If the court finds that the defendant is NOT competent to stand trial, the court may order further evaluation to determine whether there is a substantial probability that the accused will attain mental competency in the foreseeable future. The court will retain jurisdiction and defendant will be transferred to custody of DHS. OCGA § 17-7-130(c).

If court does not find client is mentally incompetent to stand trial, the defendant can file a Notice of Special Plea of Mental Incompetency to Stand Trial. The State will then be entitled to a copy of the competency evaluation. OCGA 17-7-129. Defendant can then request a jury trial to determine his competency to stand trial. OCGA 17-7-130(b)(2).

Insanity is an affirmative defense which goes to the defendant’s mental state at the time of the offense, not his mental competency to stand trial. Georgia recognizes two distinct ways a defendant can be legally insane and therefore not criminally responsible:

  1. Lack of mentally capacity to distinguish between right and wrong in relation to the act, omission, or negligence.
    OCGA 16-3-2.
  2. Because of a mental disease, injury, or congenital deficiency, defendant acted because of a delusional compulsion which overmastered his will to resist committing the crime. OCGA 16-3-3.

In Georgia, the defendant bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence that he was legally insane at the time of the offense.If found not guilty by reason of insanity, the defendant will be remanded to the custody of the Department of Behavioral Health where he will be evaluated, treated, and confined to a State Mental Hospital, often for many years, if not forever. Maddox and Carlos have worked closely with psychologists and administrators at State Mental Hospitals in Georgia and understand the forensic STEP system employed by the Department of Behavioral Health for the evaluation, treatment, and release of defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Whenever an insanity defense is interposed, jurors in Georgia also have the curious option of returning a verdict of GUILTY BUT MENTALLY ILL. However, a guilty but mentally ill verdict is legally indistinguishable from a verdict of GUILTY. In both instances the defendant is remanded to the Georgia Department of Corrections (state prison). Sadly, state prisons are not equipped to treat moderately or severely mentally ill patients. To the contrary, state prisons can be an incredibly dangerous place for those suffering from mental diseases such as schizophrenia or type 1 bi-polar disorder. Maddox and Carlos strongly believe that the mentally ill in the criminal justice system should be treated in a safe and secure environment (state mental hospital), rather than warehoused in state prison.

Strong History of Success

State v. M.D., Cobb Superior Court 11-9-3953 On October 2, 2014, Cobb County Superior Court Judge Robert E. Flournoy, III, granted a directed verdict of NOT GUILTY BY REASON OF INSANITY for our client who had been charged with the July 30, 2011, murder of his mother. M.D. was 23 years old and a student at Kennesaw State University when he shot his mother 15 times with a 9mm handgun in the home they shared in the Pope High School area of Marietta.

Witnesses testified that M.D. had begun calling himself a prophet, the Son of David, and the King of Israel. During the nine day trial there was evidence presented that M.D. suffered from a severe form of bipolar disorder and had delusions that he was becoming an angel and that the Book of Revelation was actually a prophecy about him. On the night before she was shot, M.D.’s mother came to believe that her son was possessed by the devil and called a friend to her home to pray over him. The women placed their hands on M.D.’s head and ordered that Satan release the young man. During the nine-day trial Maddox presented evidence that M.D. suffered from a delusional compulsion which overmastered his will.

Rather than being condemned to life imprisonment in a state prison, M.D. was committed to a state mental hospital where he will be treated for his mental disease.

State v. J.W., Cobb Superior Court 10-9-1672. In February 2010, J.W. was 25 years old and had long suffered from paranoid schizophrenia when he suffered from a delusion that his mother was going to kill him. He stabbed her 120 times, killing her. After thoroughly investigating J.W.’s mental health history and consulting mental health experts, Maddox was able to educate the jury on the disease of schizophrenia and explain how J.W.’s psychotic delusions overmastered his will. After a week-long trial, a Cobb County jury returned a verdict of NOT GUILTY BY REASON OF INSANITY. As a result, J.W. is receiving the mental health treatment he needs in a state mental hospital, rather than languishing in state prison under a life sentence. READ ABOUT THE CASE.
2014 UPDATE: J.W. has been a model patient in the State Mental Hospital who has complied with all treatment protocol and not incurred a single disciplinary infraction during his treatment. He continues to suffer from schizophrenia, but with antipsychotic medication and treatment by the professionals at the Department of Behavioral Health, J.W. has not suffered any further delusions or psychotic episodes.