Pleading Guilty with a Mental Illness

When a person is suffering from a mental illness, it can drastically reduce their ability to determine right from wrong, leading some to commit offenses they may have not been predisposed to commit had they been of sound mind. When this occurs, they may think it is best to plead guilty with a mental illness. Since pleading guilty with a mental illness is still pleading guilty, this is something that is best discussed with a qualified attorney prior to the initial appearance or preliminary hearing.

Prevalence of mental illness nationwide

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Mental illnesses are experiences by millions throughout the nation. It is estimated that roughly 1 in 5 adults, or more than 40 million Americans suffer from a mental illness each year. Nearly 10 million of those suffer from severe, and often debilitating cases of mental illness. Mental illness can affect an individuals ability to hold down a job, maintain healthy relationships, and overall dramatically reduce the quality of life for the sufferer. Mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar and schizophrenia can decrease a person’s ability to understand the gravity of situations and many believe they could lead a person to exhibit criminal behavior outside their control.

Pleading guilty with a mental illness at the time of the offense

Some individuals may realize that they have committed a serious offense, yet felt they were not in a healthy state of mind when the event occurred. If the evidence is stacked against them, they may choose to claim guilty with a mental illness at the time of the offense. According to Utah Code 76-2-305, “it is a defense to a prosecution under any statute or ordinance that the defendant, as a result of mental illness, lacked the mental state required as an element of the offense charged. “This section defines mental illness as “a mental disease or defect that substantially impairs a person’s mental, emotional, or behavioral functioning. A mental defect may be a congenital condition, the result of injury, or a residual effect of a physical or mental disease and includes, but is not limited to, intellectual disability.”

Sentencing with or without treatment

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When someone is given a verdict of guilty with a mental illness, according to Utah Code 77—16a-104, a hearing will then be conducted to “determine the defendant’s present mental state”. If the person is found to still be suffering from a mental illness, the court would “impose any sentence that could be imposed under law upon a defendant who does not have a mental illness and who is convicted of the same offense and commit the defendant to the department.” The defendant would then be admitted to the Utah State Hospital. Once treatment is completed, the defendant would then be transferred to the UDC (Utah Department of Corrections) to complete their sentencing. Being found guilty with a mental illness it is not a get out of jail free card. It is more of a temporary adjustment as to where the defendant will be serving their sentence.

Still a guilty plea

Utah Code 77-16a-103 gives a note of caution to those pleading guilty with a mental illness, “If the defendant is later found not to have a current mental illness, that plea remains a valid plea of guilty with a mental illness at the time of the offense, and the defendant shall be sentenced as any other offender.” Pleading guilty is still considered admitting fault. This is not something that should be done without proper legal counsel. There are other options available such as pleading guilty to a lesser offense or pleading not guilty by reason of insanity. For anyone facing criminal charges, it is best to speak to a criminal defense attorney to discuss the options available to those suffering from a mental illness.