Mental Disabilities Criminal Defense Lawyer

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Mental Disabilities Criminal Defense Attorney

Criminal cases involving defendants with mental disabilities, including mental illnesses and intellectual/developmental disabilities, are nuanced and difficult for those involved. Family members often try for years to get their loved ones the help they need, only for the worst to happen. People with mental disabilities are often charged without regard to these unique circumstances. Accused individuals in these types of cases can benefit from legal representation by a mental disabilities defense lawyer, especially one with a skill set that aligns with the uniqueness of the case.

Elizabeth Kelley has a legal practice dedicated to helping people with mental illnesses and intellectual and developmental disabilities who have been charged with crimes. Many of these people are respected and dedicated individuals who were unable to get the treatment or care they needed in time and didn’t mean to inflict the harm they did.

With practice areas that include representing people with autism spectrum disorder, individuals with dementia, and those with mental illnesses such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and schizophrenia, she is highly respected as an attorney who understands mental disabilities and the law. She practices law across the country and lectures in the United States and internationally on the subject of representing individuals with mental disabilities. She has worked extensively in her field and has edited publications on the topic of mental disabilities and law.

She understands how confusing and frightening it can be for someone with a mental disability to be arrested and face criminal charges, as well as how upsetting it can be for family members. Let her help you alleviate the uncertainty of your or your loved one’s criminal case. Discover how she can provide necessary guidance during these stressful and challenging legal situations.

The Difference Between Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities and Mental Illness

Mental illness and intellectual/developmental disabilities are not the same, although both fit under the umbrella of a mental disability. Whereas a mental illness could be temporary and is often treatable with medication, therapy, or both, an intellectual or developmental disability is a permanent condition in which an individual’s cognitive abilities are impaired.

Some mental illnesses can qualify as a disability. According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, a mental disability is an impairment that significantly impacts one or more major life activities.

Developmental Disabilities, Mental Illness, and Criminal Responsibility

Developmental disabilities and mental illnesses can impact how an individual accused of a crime reacts and responds to arresting officers, questioning officers, prosecutors, and other parties. For some accused individuals, their developmental disability or mental illness is a driving force in their commission of a crime.

  • Dementia: Dementia affects reasoning and cognitive reasoning. Individuals with dementia may not realize that their actions are offensive or illegal or not understand other people’s boundaries.
  • Autism: Individuals with autism may respond to questions or situations in ways that are misinterpreted by others, or they may not understand the conduct that is expected of them.
  • Bipolar Disorder: When someone with bipolar disorder has a manic episode, it can result in impulsive and risky decisions.
  • Schizophrenia: Individuals with schizophrenia suffer from cognitive deficiencies, which can affect many aspects of their behavior.
  • PTSD: Those with PTSD may lash out or react unexpectedly to outside triggers.

In many cases, a person’s mental illness or developmental disability means they do not have criminal intent and criminal responsibility. This could be used in their defense.

People With Mental Disabilities and the Criminal Justice System

The criminal justice system can be extremely harsh for people with mental disabilities. Many law enforcement officials have not had training to handle situations involving these individuals, and the courts can sometimes be biased against people with mental disabilities in certain instances due to a lack of understanding.

People who have mental disabilities are more likely to experience victimization in addition to being arrested and charged with a crime. They are also more likely to serve longer sentences than individuals who do not have a mental disability. People who have a mental disability and are part of a minority group, such as a person of color or someone who is homosexual, are even more likely to face the fullest extent of the criminal justice system.

People with mental disabilities can also be more prone to falsely confessing to crimes that they did not commit. They may also be convinced by authorities to waive certain legal rights without fully understanding the consequences of doing so. For this reason, it’s important for a person with a mental disability to obtain legal representation as soon as possible if they’re being investigated or questioned about their actions related to a potential crime or crimes.

Being found guilty of a crime and entering a jail or prison system is stressful for anyone. For people with disabilities, this can be dangerous. Jails and prisons are not known for having accommodations for people with mental disabilities, who often need assistance with everyday tasks. Additionally, their mental disability could make them a target for harassment and violence from other detainees or inmates.

Mental Disabilities and White Collar Criminal Offenses

White collar crimes are financial and non-violent crimes, and they include offenses such as embezzlement, several types of fraud, money laundering, and insider trading. Mental health issues such as bipolar disorder, major depression, trauma, dementia, autism or a head injury often provide the context for white collar offenses. These issues must be handled sensitively and strategically. The stakes in white collar cases are particularly high, not only because of the loss of reputation, but because of possible fines, restitution, forfeiture, and incarceration. She works closely with leading white collar practitioners, adding valuable experience and expertise.

Criminal Defense for People With Mental Disabilities

People with mental disabilities sometimes do not have the ability to seek representation from an attorney who understands their condition, and family members must often make these important decisions for them. She works with empathy for her clients with mental disabilities. She is committed to advocating for their rights and spreading awareness of their needs within the criminal justice system.

Having a mental disability is often a relevant detail for a defendant in a criminal trial. She can review your or your loved one’s case details. Then, she can develop an appropriate criminal defense strategy that could lead to a positive outcome, whether that’s minimizing the charges and penalties for the crime or having the case dropped entirely.


Q: Is Mental Disability a Defense in Criminal Cases?

A: No, having a mental disability is not a defense in criminal cases. The insanity plea is not a medical concept but a legal concept, so having a diagnosis of a mental disability alone does not always qualify for pleading insanity as a criminal defense. However, being a person with a mental disability is information that should typically be disclosed to the court in criminal proceedings. Pleading insanity as a criminal defense can be very difficult to prove in a court of law.

Q: What Mental Disorders Qualify for the Insanity Defense?

A: People with conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and schizoaffective disorder may qualify for the insanity defense in certain cases. This type of defense asserts that the defendant should not be liable for the crime in question because of their mental condition that affected their judgment when the crime occurred. It is an affirmative defense, which means it involves admitting that the defendant did commit the crime, but it provides a justification as to why they did so.

Q: Is Being Bipolar a Legal Defense?

A: No, being bipolar is not typically a legal defense, but it can be a factor in developing your legal strategy for defending a criminal case. If you have a bipolar diagnosis and were accused of committing a crime, it could be advisable to disclose this information to the court. Working with an attorney who has an understanding of bipolar disorder and experience representing individuals with mental health conditions in criminal court proceedings could also benefit your case.

Q: What Is Considered a Mental Impairment?

A: A mental impairment is a mental disorder or illness that significantly limits your ability to participate in one or more major life activities, such as being able to care for yourself or work. Types of mental impairments can range in severity and might include certain learning disorders, emotional illnesses (such as depression), or cerebral palsy. A mental impairment could be a permanent or temporary condition, depending on the type of impairment.

Legal Representation for People With Mental Disabilities

If you or someone you love is a person with a mental disability and is facing criminal charges, Elizabeth Kelley can help. Her nationwide practice is dedicated to serving people who have a wide range of mental disabilities. Contact her today to request a consultation and learn how she could help your loved one’s criminal defense case.