Mental Health Issues in Criminal Law
by Gary Muldoon
Muldoon & Getz
Rochester, New York
A defendant's mental state can arise in a criminal action in various contexts:
• as a defense: whether at the time of the incident defendant lacked criminal responsibility as a result of a mental disease or defect, Penal Law § 40.15.
• in a homicide prosecution, whether defendant acted under influence of an "extreme emotional disturbance", which is an affirmative defense to intentional Murder 2nd degree but not lesser offenses, Penal Law § 125.25(1)(a).
• whether defendant is incapacitated under CPL article 730, such that defendant is unfit to proceed.
• whether defendant can represent him/herself pro se.
• whether a person appears to be mentally ill and acting in a way that will likely result in serious harm to some, such that a "mental hygiene" arrest should be made and the person removed to a hospital, Mental Hygiene Law §§ 9.41, 9.43.
• whether psychological coercion occurred in obtaining a confession.
• whether defendant's mental limitations were such as to prevent understanding Miranda warnings.
• whether defendant's use of alcohol or drugs affected the nature and consequences of statements made to the police.
• whether defendant had the intent to commit the crime, or whether the defendant's intoxication/drug use affected it.
• whether a felony charge is submitted or defendant is notified of grand jury presentation, CPL 730.40(3).
• whether time delays are attributable to the defense or the prosecution.
• whether a guilty plea was properly entered, People v D'Adamo, 281 AD2d 751 (3d Dep't 2001).
• at sentencing, People v Bangert, 22 NY2d 799 (1968).
• notice of psychiatric defenses, and mental examination of the defendant.
• in a postjudgment motion to set aside the conviction.
• with SORA risk levels, including override and upward departure.
• with "civil commitment" after the end of a prison term.
Additionally, mental state may be important with duress and battered woman syndrome defenses.
Civil proceedings may also be brought where mental impairment allegedly exists. Under "Kendra's Law," mandatory outpatient mental health services may be ordered, including medication for the mentally ill who without routine care and treatment may become violent. Mental Hygiene Law § 9.60.
Mental health issues may arise with the mental state of others:
• whether a witness is competent to testify.
• service on an institutionalized mentally ill person.
© 2010 by Gary Muldoon