How Can Mental Health Evaluations Affect a Criminal Trial in Utah?

Mental health is being taken more seriously by society each and every year. It is becoming apparent that a lot of people in the United States are suffering from mental health conditions of some kind to the point where some have called it a mental health crisis. Of course, this will inevitably also affect the criminal justice system. If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime and are going through the criminal legal process, you may be wondering how mental health evaluations can affect the outcome of those proceedings.

The answer is that if a defendant wishes to use a mental condition as a defense to a criminal charge, they will be evaluated to determine the veracity of that claim. Evaluators carrying out these claims are looking for a number of factors that may indicate that a defendant is not mentally fit to stand trial and be convicted of their crimes. The results of these evaluations will vary for every case. They could lead to charges being dropped or mitigated, or they could lead to nothing at all.

To have our team of Salt Lake City criminal defense attorneys look over your case, call Overson Law at (801) 758-2287.

Mental Condition Defenses in Utah Criminal Trials

Perhaps the most infamous way that mental health can make its way into criminal proceedings is if the defendant claims that they are clinically insane and, therefore, do not have the mental capacity to be convicted of the crime they committed. Under Utah Code § 76-2-305, defendants can assert the affirmative defense of having “diminished mental capacity,” colloquially known as claiming “insanity.” There are a couple of important things to know about the insanity/mental condition defense in Utah:

Not Available for All Crimes

Using insanity as an affirmative defense is not an option for every crime. For example, under Utah Code § 76-2-305(2)(b), insanity cannot be used as a defense for capital felonies like aggravated murder, but it can be used as a mitigating factor when sentencing a defendant.

Additionally, some circumstances make it so that the defense of insanity cannot be raised. For example, under Utah Code § 76-2-305(4), insanity cannot be raised as a defense when voluntarily consuming drugs, alcohol, or other controlled substances, and those substances brought about diminished mental capacity. So, if you “black out” while drunk and kill someone in a hit-and-run, you cannot claim diminished mental capacity because you were too drunk to know what was going on around you.

Definition of Mental Illness

Utah Code § 76-2-305(1)(c) defines mental illness as it applies to insanity defenses in Utah. The definition includes schizophrenia and other “psychotic” disorders as well as other “serious” conditions. The statute does not specify what conditions are serious. That will likely become apparent as mental health evaluations are done during criminal proceedings. Our Utah criminal defense lawyers will work towards ensuring that any conditions involved in your case are treated appropriately by the court.

Mental Health Evaluations in Utah Criminal Cases

If a mental health condition is at issue in Utah criminal proceedings, the court investigates the defendant’s mental health per Utah Code § 77-16a-301(1). Essentially, the court needs to check that the defendant does indeed have a mental condition that could warrant mitigating the charges, dropping them entirely, or having the defendant undergo certain treatment. This examination needs to be completed within 30 days of when the court orders it, and it is carried out by “competency evaluators,” who are medical practitioners.

Factors Affecting Mental Evaluations in Utah

Competency evaluators are looking to weigh several factors covered under Utah Code § 77-15-55(6)(b) when carrying out their evaluation. These factors include the defendant understanding the charges levied against them, understanding possible penalties for their alleged actions, and other factors indicative of the defendant’s mental capacity to stand trial.

Evaluation Determinations

Evaluations can take several different forms, but the results are either a finding that the defendant is not fit to stand trial or that the defendant can be tried. What happens after an evaluation is governed by Utah Code § 77-15-55(7).

If evaluators determine that the defendant has a mental condition, they have to explain what factors led them to that conclusion. They also have to state whether they think that the defendant may become fit to stand trial at some point in the future and if the defendant would benefit from treatment. If the defendant can become fit to stand trial, proceedings may only be put on hold until that time instead of being ended completely.

Dropping Misdemeanor Charges Following Mental Health Evaluations in Utah

There are some special rules regarding competency to stand trial specifically for misdemeanor cases laid out in Utah Code § 77-15-3.5. Generally, defendants whose most severe alleged crime is a misdemeanor and are found not competent to stand trial receive treatment instead of getting charged with a crime. Under § 3.5(3) of the same statute, a defendant still not mentally competent to stand trial after 60 days since they were declared incompetent and accused of no higher crime than a Class B misdemeanor is to be released by the court. This is a way to streamline the process so that individuals with mental illness who have not committed serious crimes do not clog up the court system.

However, the prosecutor can still request a “civil commitment” proceeding, which tries to place the defendant in a mental institution if it is deemed necessary. This does not always happen, and our lawyers will make sure it does not happen to you under unfair circumstances.

Talk to Our Utah Criminal Defense Attorneys About Your Case

For a free, confidential analysis of your situation, call our Provo criminal defense attorneys with Overson Law at (801) 758-2287.