Mental Health Defenses to Crimes in Pennsylvania

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Oct 16, 2022 | 0 Comments

In Pennsylvania, if you are charged with a crime, the prosecution has the burden of proving to the court that you fulfilled every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecution cannot prove that every element of the crime was committed beyond a reasonable doubt, the court must find the defendant not guilty. For instance, in Pennsylvania, the elements of burglary are:

  1. Entering any part of a building or occupied structure
  2. With the intent to commit a crime inside
  3. Unless the premises were open to the public at the time or the defendant was allowed to enter

Basically, if you entered a public restroom, during regular hours, with the intent to steal someone's phone, you have committed theft, not burglary, because you did not enter outside of those regular hours, and it is a public bathroom. Additionally, if you entered the public bathroom and picked up someone else's phone thinking it was your own, it also would not constitute the act of burglary because there was no intent to commit a crime.

Mental Health Defenses in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania defenses for criminal offenses must be linked to the elements of the crime. If the prosecution cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that each of the elements of the crime has occurred, you cannot be found guilty. If you allegedly committed the criminal offense while going through a psychiatric episode, your criminal defense attorney will be able to use that to negate the intent element of the crime. All elements of a crime must be proven to find a defendant guilty.

Will the Courts Be Lenient Because of My Mental Illness?

Mental health defenses, like not guilty by reason of insanity, or guilty but mentally ill, must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence by the defense team.

The test required to prove that a defendant is not guilty by reason of insanity is called the M'Naghten Test. For insanity to be a defense, the defendant must not have known right from wrong when they committed the act or did not understand the moral nature of the act because of their mental defect or disease. If the defense can prove this, they have successfully proven that the defendant did not have the intention of committing the crime because of their insanity. These defendants will be committed to a mental health institution – usually for a longer period than if they had been sent to prison to serve out their time.

If a defendant pleads guilty but mentally ill, they must prove that as a result of their mental disease or defect, they lacked a substantial capacity to either appreciate the wrongfulness of their actions or to act the way the law requires. This must be proven beyond a preponderance of the evidence by the defense. If a defendant is found guilty but mentally ill, the courts will not sentence leniently. The defendant will be treated the same as any other defendant found guilty of a crime.

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 defend themselves with mental health defenses. Attorney Lento will work diligently, mitigating any negative consequences you may face and guaranteeing you the best possible outcome for such a nuanced case. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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