criminal defense lawyer

A client may ask whether it was legal or a justifiable defense to hit someone who struck first. A criminal lawyer may approach this with the court by focusing on the act as one of self-defense.

Understanding the Difference Between Incompetence and Insanity in a Legal Defense

Trying to successfully use a defense of insanity in a criminal case is extremely difficult. Another possibility is for the attorney to claim the defendant is incompetent. The criminal defense lawyer still must prove that the client is, indeed, accurately described by this word. This is different than having to prove innocence, since the U.S. courts automatically presume innocence when someone is charged with a crime.

The Insanity Defense

Sometimes a lawyer will use a defense of temporary insanity, which tends to be more accepted by the court. However, a handful of states do not allow defendants to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. This includes Utah. Defendants are, instead, allowed to plead guilty by reason of insanity. Afterward, they may be required by the court to move a psychiatric facility until they are considered mentally well enough to function normally in society.


The Issue of Competence

Competence, in contrast, is an aspect decided on by a judge before trial. The defendant is evaluated as to his or her competence to stand trial. The person is presented as being too mentally ill or cognitively challenged to understand the basics of the judicial system and how he or she is affected. It must be established that this individual does not understand the concept of a trial, or the role of the judges and lawyers. The client will not be able to help his or her lawyer with the defense strategy, a factor considered extremely important.

A Holding Pattern

If the person is deemed incompetent, a move to a psychiatric hospital also will likely be the result. Being found incompetent is not the same as being found not guilty. The trial is not held, the person is not convicted or found not guilty, and the charges are not dropped. This essentially becomes a waiting game, since competency hearings continue to be scheduled. If the individual is ever again considered to be competent to stand trial, a lawyer like Aric Cramer must craft an entirely new defense strategy.

Types of Incompetence

Incompetence does not only relate to mental illness, but to cognitive decline as in Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. For example, a person with Alzheimer's who becomes combative at home may badly injure or even kill someone, such as a home care nurse, in a moment of rage. This individual may be unable to comprehend legal responsibility or even to remember the episode.