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Severe Mental Illness, Criminal Conviction, and the Death Penalty


In the field of criminal defense, we frequently see circumstances under which individuals are convicted of crimes without mental illness being adequately taken into account at the trial level; including circumstances which result in the death penalty.

In the best case scenario, after someone has spent years and years on death row, evidence comes to light concerning this mental illness, and their death penalty sentence turns into life behind bars. Worst case scenario, the truth never comes to light, and not only do these inmates never get the treatment that they need, but this costs taxpayers a tremendous amount of money.

Florida Remains in Dark Age on Mental Illness & Death Penalty

Fortunately, improvements have been made, and we understand more and more every year, shifting away from mandating capital punishment for individuals diagnosed with severe mental illness. Last year, eight states introduced legislation prohibiting the death penalty for people suffering from severe mental illness.

Unfortunately, Florida is not one of those states: Inmates have filed petitions with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that Florida courts have frequently applied the wrong standard for mental competency, and ignored the standard set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court (that inmates have a rational understanding of why they are being executed).

This mandate persists even though numerous state governors have supported reform, pointing out current death penalty law does not adequately take the effect of mental illnesses into account. For example, individuals–including those who have been executed in Florida–can still get the death penalty even though they suffered from severe delusions, schizophrenia, PTSD, etc. 

Insanity Defense: Burden of Proof

In Florida, the defendant bears the burden of proving their insanity via clear and convincing evidence.  They must demonstrate not only that they suffered from a relevant deficiency in mental capacity at the time of the crime, but that they were unable to understand the consequences of their actions or could not tell what they were doing was wrong.

While Florida has civil commitment laws that establish criteria for determining when an individual is suffering from a severe mental illness and can or cannot order an individual to be involuntarily placed in a state treatment facility, criminal laws defining the elements of severe mental illness and providing for a pre-trial hearing by the court are still lacking. Many feel that this type of legislation is necessary in order to stay up-to-date with our knowledge of mental illness.

Florida and Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you or a loved one is facing criminal conviction even though a severe mental illness is involved, you need to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. Contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at The Baez Law Firm today to find out how we can help.


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The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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