In a sharply divided ruling, a panel of appeals judges ruled recently 3-2 that a man who pleaded guilty to attempted murder should have his prison sentence reduced based on a history of mental illness.
An 11-year sentence for a man who attacked a person with a machete was “unduly harsh,” so the judges reduced the sentence to eight years in prison, Reuters reports.
Mental health issues have become extremely important in Great Neck criminal cases. As we have seen in recent years, people have been falsely accused of crimes and convicted anyway, which shows that there are still issues in our criminal justice system.
Mental health issues for defendants must be taken seriously by judges. There are specialized hearings that defendants may be entitled to in their criminal case in order to show they aren’t capable to stand trial or may have been insane at the time of the crime.
Many in the public would consider these to be “technicalities” or merely excuses made by the defendant. But those would be the opinions of people who aren’t trained to detect mental illness or understand its effects on a person’s actions.
Illnesses can range from the extreme where a person is convinced they are being told to commit a crime, to simply not understanding the consequences of their actions. Teenagers in particular don’t have fully developed cognitive processes and the results can often be an underestimation of the consequences of their actions.
In the recent court case, the 57-year-old originally from the Dominican Republic attacked a man without provocation in 2007, causing severe injuries.
According to the news article, the man had endured “unspeakable abuses” as a child after participating in peaceful anti-government protests. The ruling states he first started hearing voices as a 15-year-old. Shortly after his mother died in 2007 and after being declined by Medicaid, he stopped taking his psychiatric medication. That preceded the attack. Two months later, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Prosecutors argued that the 11-year sentence was “quite lenient” given the facts of the crime. After the man had controlled his psychosis by medication, he decided to plead guilty rather than attempt an insanity defense. He said he would prefer a known amount of prison time to an unknown amount of time in a psychiatric facility.
Despite the majority finding in favor of the defendant and reducing his sentence, the two judges who dissented voiced their opinion in a strongly worded dissenting opinion that said the decision was based on sympathy rather than case law. They wrote there was “no basis” to reduce the sentence. There was no evidence he was coerced into accepting the plea and that the judge didn’t abuse his authority in accepting the plea.
The ruling was a victory for the man, but also for defendants with mental illnesses who follow. A person’s mind can cause them to do strange things. It is appropriate for prosecutors and judges to take this into consideration when filing charges and handing down sentences.
The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides criminal defense legal counsel in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or contact us through the website.
More Blog Entries:
State v. Green Illustrates Need for Self Defense in New York City Criminal Cases: October 18, 2011
Divided appeals court reduces attempted murder sentence, by Joseph Ax, Reuters