Studies have demonstrated that nearly two-thirds of all inmates in the United States suffer from some form of mental illness. Those in prison are seven times as likely to have incurred serious brain injury than is the general population. For much of our country’s history, the public and the criminal justice system dismissed claims of mental illness as nothing more than “excuses.” However, soaring prison populations and increasing crime have caused many to reconsider the importance of identifying and treating mental illness, and understanding how untreated disorders leads to offending and re-offending.
It is no longer good enough for a criminal defense lawyer to merely comprehend the law or be a great litigator. A truly effective criminal defense lawyer must have knowledge and understanding of the hundreds of recognized mental health disorders that most commonly lead to contact with the criminal justice system, must have experience with the intricacies of the mental health system to efficiently locate the most effective treatment options, and must be able to communicate to judges and prosecutors why it is in society’s best interests to treat rather than incarcerate their clients.
Courts are more receptive than ever to these arguments. Most jurisdictions now have mental health courts, jail diversion programs, drug treatment courts, and veterans’ courts. Those deciding the fates of criminal defendants are now more willing than ever to hear and consider well thought out arguments accompanied by sound mental health or addiction treatment plans.
The criminal defense team of attorneys and paralegals at Dethlefs Pykosh & Murphy believe it is imperative to create opportunities and options for our clients to resolve their criminal cases. Discovering, discussing, and treating mental health disorders such as depression, addiction, or post-traumatic stress disorder are essential to that process. We have amassed years of experience representing clients in mental health commitment hearings and mental health competency hearings. We have been members of county mental health court and drug court teams and been appointed to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Mental Health Justice Advisory Committee.
It is in society’s best interest for those afflicted with mental health issues to receive treatment and overcome the obstacles to living law-abiding lives. At Dethlefs Pykosh & Murphy we don’t leave these stones unturned and will navigate the tricky waters of where the criminal justice and mental health systems converge.