Crime and Mental Illness

Crime and Mental Illness

Relationship between crime and mental illness from a legal standpoint

Mental illnesses affect phases of the criminal justice procedure. In the case of severe disorders, these cases are specially undertaken under criminal law. It is justifiable to convict and punish an individual in the justice system if the stated individual is found guilty of a crime and if they are competent at each stage of the process (Kadish, Schulhofer & Barkow, 2016). Sentencing a person who is not in their right of mind is considered unjust, and the state can be termed irresponsible as they should seek to restore the individual’s reasonable competence to continue with the conviction. One should be competent enough to stand trial.

Some of the mental disorders relevant to crime include delusional ailments, antisocial personality disorders, schizophrenia and major depressive illnesses (Kadish et al., 2016).  They usually deprive an individual the freedom of choice at varying degrees which can lead to one having breakdowns and committing crimes. They typically tend to hinder an individual’s ability to get by with life on a day-to-day basis as their perceptions and emotions go out of hand, and they tend to lose contact with reality. Major depressive disorders have a significant role to play about crimes. They have led to crimes such as crowd shootings, violence in the workplace and homes and mass murders among others.

In any system of justice, there has to be a clear establishment of a criminal’s responsibility and competency to undergo conviction. Hence psychiatrist diagnoses have to be considered such a juncture. Insanity is a legal term used to refer to a person’s state of mind when an offense is committed, and this has to be considered so to determine whether the person is to be sent to prison or a psychiatric facility. (Kadish et al., 2016)

Court cases related to mental illness and criminal law

First is case of Sell versus U.S, 539 U.S.166 in the year 2003 which involved a dentist threatening a witness suffering from medical illness for his Medicaid fraud trial (Slobogin, 2017). He was also charged with stalking a nurse while in hospitalized care. The courts seemed to differ in their decisions whether the accused was dangerous or not. This case is significant since the dentist was forced to take medication in an attempt to restore his competency, yet it is stipulated in the constitution that a defendant’s rights should be respected if they are not competent to stand trial as a result of any mental illness.

Also the Clark v. Arizona case in 2006 depicts that insanity defense is not always upfront and it can have some mishaps. It is argued that individuals with mental disorders cannot be held accountable for a crime (Slobogin, 2017). The insanity defense used in this case usually applies when it is alleged that the accused has a mental illness affecting their ability to distinguish right from wrong. Mr. Clark shot and killed an officer after being pulled over in 2001. In the recent year, Clark had developed symptoms related to psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, and paranoia. In his defense, he thought he killed an alien (Slobogin, 2017).

This proved that he was psychotic at the time of the crime. He was later found guilty and convicted of a first-degree murder which is usually associated with intent. The court had rejected the insanity plea, but this was due to Arizona laws (Slobogin, 2017). In Arizona, it is not acceptable to refute state of mind in a crime using psychiatric testimony only even though the accused was positively diagnosed with schizophrenia. The relevance of the issues, in this case, applied since the court refused to consider the defendant’s mental state in conducting a ruling. Various counters statements were put forward by the court which made the insanity defense more difficult to apply.

Lastly but not least is the Washington v. Harper case in 1990, the Supreme Court held that psychotropic drugs might be administered forcefully to an inmate in case their mental disorder poses a threat to himself and others (Slobogin, 2017). This ruling also allowed for parties not directly involved in the alleged to administer these forced medications.  This case raises questions about the validity of an inmate’s rights and the degree of their infringement while basing it on legal procedures (Peterson, Skeem, Kennealy, Bray & Zvonkovic, 2014). But it states that the rights of the accused are protected since the decision is rested upon medical professionals rather than the judges.

Issues, trends or challenges found within the cases and exploration of noticed changes

In the Sell v. U.S case, the differing decisions make it difficult to make a ruling as they proposed different measures. The Washington and Clark cases also show how the justice systems have a dominant power about mental illness trials. Rights of the accused are overlooked of which is not fair.

My standpoint on bringing mental illness into a person’s criminal background

It is quite relevant since this can form the basis for one’s trial. The individual may not have acted of their volition but due to a mental disorder of which they are inevitable. This also helps in prevention of unwarranted arrests to prevent a crisis. This helps the authorities to respond to the situation in an informed manner such as court-ordered treatment.


Kadish, S. H., Schulhofer, S. J., & Barkow, R. E. (2016). Criminal law and its processes: cases and materials. Wolters Kluwer Law & Business.

Peterson, J. K., Skeem, J., Kennealy, P., Bray, B., & Zvonkovic, A. (2014). How often and how consistently do symptoms directly precede criminal behavior among offenders with mental illness? Law and Human Behavior38(5), 439-449.

Slobogin, C. (2007). The Supreme Court’s Recent Criminal Mental Health Cases-Rulings of Questionable Competence. Crim. Just.22, 8.


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