Mental Health Issues and Criminal Behavior

As the link between mental health issues and criminal behavior is being researched, disorders such as depression and schizophrenia that were previously taboo to speak about are finally being seen and discussed as actual medical conditions needing attention and treatment.

An empty threat

Photo by: Thomanication

Photo by: Thomanication

On Monday, 35 year old Eagle Mountain resident Christopher Dewitt Craig drove to his 9 year old daughter’s elementary school and demanded the school be evacuated; afterwards telling police there were explosives in his vehicle. Following a delivery of an unknown message to police, Craig was arrested without incident and was booked on charges including: making terrorist threats; disrupting operations of a school; and disorderly conduct. His arrest and bail of $25,000 stands even though authorities didn’t discover a single trace of explosives or any weapons on Craig’s person, in his vehicle, or even at his home.

Downward spiral

Contrary to a public outcry of a suspect making a terrorist threat on an elementary school, the community along with those who know Craig personally are calling the incident sad and tragic; a life that spiraled out of control due to mental health issues. Before plunging into criminal and irrational behavior, Craig had a promising career in basketball; both as a player and then as a coach. He was a star basketball player in the 90’s during his high school years at Horizon High School in Phoenix Arizona, later playing for the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). His path then changed from player to coach after he landed a job as the very young head coach for Utah State University Eastern. After two other coaching positions with the last being at Midland College in Texas, Craig left while suffering with mental health issues including schizophrenia. His life quickly went downhill as he struggled with drugs and extremist thinking. He is now facing the possibility of 15 years or more in prison.

Mental health issues and criminal behavior

Mental Health Issues

Photo by: Alachua County

Having an illness such as schizophrenia does not make a person a violent or dangerous criminal. More often than not, those suffering from untreated mental health issues will do nothing more than struggle privately and isolate themselves, withdrawing from family and friends. Very few sufferers get the medical help they need as they do not speak openly about their struggles. Some choose to end their misery with suicide; other may attempt to numb the pain with substance abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), “Individuals with overt, mild, or even subclinical mental disorders may abuse drugs as a form of self-medication.” NIH also stated that “Patients with schizophrenia have higher rates of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug abuse than the general population.” Many mental health issues make it difficult to make healthy, everyday choices. Substance abuse can further hinder a person’s ability to think clearly and act accordingly. Mix the two together along with decreased support of loved ones and you have a recipe for disaster that can lead to criminal behavior.

SAMHSA

With mental health issues and/or substance abuse, early detection and treatment is key for preventing lives from being turned upside down such as what has happened with Christopher Craig. Fortunately, there are resources available to help those who are struggling with mental illness or drugs; one of those is SAMHSA. According to their website, “The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.” They state: “SAMHSA Strategic Initiatives help provide treatment and services for people with mental and substance use disorders, support the families of people with mental and substance use disorders, build strong and supportive communities, prevent costly behavioral health problems, and promote better health for all Americans.” For anyone who is or who knows someone who is struggling mentally or with substance abuse, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. For more information contact the Department of Health in your area. If legal help is needed for criminal charges, contact an experienced defense attorney.

Lesser Included Offense – Plea Bargain Option or Backup Charge to Ensure a Conviction

When someone is charged with a crime such as a felony, that charge is often accompanied by a lesser included offense of that greater crime.

Lesser included offense

Photo by: winnifredxoxo

Photo by: winnifredxoxo

A lesser included offense is a crime wherein the elements, or specific aspects needed to prove guilt of that crime are included within the greater crime being charged. In order for a lesser included offense to be valid, it must be impossible for the greater crime to be committed unless the lesser offense is as well. For instance, a class A misdemeanor assault would be the lesser included offense for third degree felony assault as it is impossible for someone to use “force or means likely to produce death or serious bodily injury to another” if they never caused any “substantial bodily injury”.

Use in traffic violations

Lesser included offenses come up frequently with traffic violations. An example would be if a person is arrested for reckless driving and exceeding the maximum speed limit by up to 25 mph. The first being a class B misdemeanor (greater offense), while the latter is a mere infraction (lesser included offense). Utah Code defines reckless driving as someone who “operates a vehicle in a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property”. Exceeding the speed limit in certain areas of circumstances can also fall under the same definition, but without a criminal charge attached.

One or the other

Photo by: Kyle Pearce

Photo by: Kyle Pearce

When a lesser included offense accompanies a greater offense, often the defendant cannot be convicted of both charges. Such would be the case with voluntary manslaughter and murder. If the defendant was found guilty it would be for either one or the other; not both. This can also apply to drug charges. Someone can be arrested for possession and possession with intent to distribute yet if the intent to distribute charge sticks the simple possession charge is void as it is already encompassed within the greater charge.

Lesser related offense

There are some lesser charges that are related in nature, yet not included in more severe crime. These are known as lesser related offenses. Possession is a lesser related offense to distribution and often goes hand in hand, yet possession is NOT a lesser included offense of distribution. Someone can be a middle man in a deal, never having the illegal drugs in their possession, and face distribution charges without the possession charges. If they did possess the drugs and sold them, then the possession charge would be a lesser related offense.

Use in plea bargains

Photo by: Karen Neoh

Photo by: Karen Neoh

A lesser included offense can be beneficial in defense cases as it can give the defendant an option to plead guilty to a lighter crime and have the more serious charge dropped. This is sometimes the case when there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the lesser crime but the defense may not want to risk the chance of the defendant being found guilty of the higher crime, so they accept the lesser offense in exchange for dropping the greater one.

Prosecution’s use of lesser charges

The defendant isn’t the only one that has the potential to benefit from lesser included offenses. The prosecution will often add a lesser included offense to ensure that the defendant will be found guilty of something. This backup charge helps the prosecution ensure a conviction when they may doubt whether or not the more serious charge would stick. Since they can be used for or against the defendant, it is always wise to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to help guide you through the court proceedings and know when to accept or fight lesser included offenses.

Aggravated Assault for Defending Home from Intruder

A Salt Lake City man was arrested for aggravated assault for defending his aging mother-in-law’s vacation home from an intruder.

The stake out

Photo by: Mesa Tactical

Photo by: Mesa Tactical

51 year old Glen Decker and his wife are caretakers of his mother-in-law’s home in Salt Lake City which is used mainly for vacationing. Upon regular inspection of the home, the Decker’s realized that someone had been breaking into the residence. To put a stop to the burglary, the vigilantes armed themselves and hid out in the dark unlocked home; hoping to catch the thieves red-handed.

Bait, set, trap

The potential repeat offenders took the bait of an apparently vacant home and let themselves in unlawfully, only to be confronted by the Decker’s waiting inside. With a gun in hand, Glen Decker ordered the two thieves to stay put until police arrived. The female suspect complied, while the male suspect decided to make a run for it instead. As the intruder tried to flee the home, Decker shot him once in the abdomen. The chase continued outside the home as the runaway burglar made it to his get-away car only to have the vehicle shot at multiple times by Decker. The suspect later checked himself into the hospital in serious condition for a single gunshot wound to the stomach and Glen Decker was arrested for aggravated assault and weapons charges.

Stand, not chase

Photo by: Elliott Brown

Photo by: Elliott Brown

Utah has a stand your ground law detailed in Utah Code 76-2-402 allowing residents to protect themselves or others from danger by using deadly force if needed. What some may not realize is this does not give permission to be confrontational. The stand your ground law only applies if “the person reasonably believes that force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury”. If a suspect is not posing an immediate threat, there is no justification in using deadly force; stand your ground laws would likely not apply for someone who is chasing an unarmed party.

La casa de mi familia

While Utah may not encourage residents to chase and shoot persons who are committing a non-violent crime, there are laws allowing homeowners (and possibly caretakers) to protect their place of residence from intruders. This is known as Castle Doctrine. Utah’s version of Castle Doctrine is found in Utah Code 76-2-405 which discusses “force in defense of habitation”. This law has certain stipulations that must apply in order to use potential deadly force in defending a home. The resident must believe that force is necessary to prevent a violent intruder or to “prevent the commission of [a] felony” in the home. Also, “the person using force or deadly force in defense of habitation is presumed ( . . . ) to have acted reasonably and had a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or serious bodily injury ( . . . )”.

Aggravated assault

Aggravated Assault

Photo by: Chris Heald

Granted breaking and entering is against the law, it does not allow a person to detain a suspect with physical force or violence. If a violent intruder tries to enter your home, stop them; if they attempt to retreat, let them. It is not up to everyday residents to take the law into their own hands unless they feel they are in danger. When someone’s actions have the potential to cause unnecessary serious bodily harm or death, that person may face charges of aggravated assault. Someone found guilty of aggravated assault faces the same penalties as the individual facing burglary charges. Both are considered third degree felonies punishable by up to five years and prison and a possible fine of $5,000. Anyone facing charges stemming from an attempt to stop an intruder should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately to avoid serving time behind bars with the burglar.