Phillip A. Linder
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Not guilty by reason of insanity pleas

Texas residents who stand accused of felonies may be interested to know that their mental health problems may not prevent them from being convicted. Although Texas is one of the states that allows defendants to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, prior cases, like that of Chris Kyle's slaying at a gun range, demonstrate that the argument doesn't always work. In that case, the defendant had already been diagnosed with PTSD and was being treated for schizophrenia, but jurors decided to deem him guilty of first-degree murder and hand down a sentence of life imprisonment.

Analysts said that the Chris Kyle case decision may have hinged on an inadvertent interaction between the defendant and a law enforcement official following the incident. The viability of insanity-based not-guilty pleas in other high-status cases, like the Reagan assassination attempt and the James Holmes theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, may hinge upon numerous factors, including the evidence presented by prosecutors, emotion-laden witness testimony and public reaction to case details.

Legal experts also suggest that mental health issues could contribute to violent infractions, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics has reported that almost two-thirds of those incarcerated in state prisons for violent crimes suffer from mental illnesses. Nonetheless, insanity defenses are notably rare, and while a few are successful, the National Institute of Mental Health says that 75 percent of them fail.

Those who stand accused of violent crimes must prepare strong defenses. Regardless of their personal circumstances or even confirmed mental health issues, the defendants may face serious penalties due to the way prosecutors present the events or personal juror biases. Those who are in this position may wish to consult with a criminal defense attorney in order to develop a strategy to use before or at trial.

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