To be convicted of committing a criminal act, the prosecution must show that the defendant not only fulfilled the elements of the crime, including that they had the intent (the mental state) to commit the crime. For instance, in New Jersey, the elements of theft are:
- The unlawful taking or exerting control over
- The property of another
- With the intent to deprive the owner of the property
So, if you took a purse off the ground at a restaurant because you thought it was yours, you have fulfilled the act of picking up a purse that does not belong to you (“the unlawful taking of the property of another”), but not the intent of stealing from someone else (“the intent to deprive the owner of the property”). The defense can use lack of intent as a defense to the crime of theft.
Mental Health Defenses
There are several ways a New Jersey criminal attorney will work to prove a defense and thus alleviate the negative effects of your charges. If you committed a crime while experiencing a psychiatric episode, your attorney will want to use a mental health defense to prove you were not capable of committing the supposed crime. The presence of a mental disease or defect would negate a defendant's ability to fulfill the state of mind element of the crime.
Will the Courts Be Lenient?
Courts will instruct jurors to only find a defendant guilty if the prosecution has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant fulfilled each element of the crime, including the intent. If the intent element cannot be proven, or there is doubt, the jury must find the defendant not guilty.
But there are instances where a defendant will not plead guilty or not guilty, instead, they will plead not guilty by reason of insanity. When this happens, the burden is on the defense to prove beyond a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is insane and thus incapable of committing a crime.
Individuals found not guilty by reason of insanity will not be freed automatically. Most will be committed to a psychiatric hospital, usually for a long period of time.
How A Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have spent years helping individuals charged with criminal offenses build strong defenses using proof of their mental health struggles. Attorney Lento understands how complex these defenses can be and how important reaching a not guilty verdict is. He will work tirelessly gathering evidence and relevant witnesses, including expert witnesses, guaranteeing guarantee you the best possible outcome for such a nuanced case. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online.