Juvenile Defense in Fort Lauderdale: Considering Mental-Health Issues

A Fort Lauderdale teenager stands accused of beating a female classmate so badly outside their middle school that she suffered permanent brain damage. balance2.jpg

His defense team plans to argue that the defendant should not be held responsible for his actions because he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after his older brother committed suicide. The alleged victim reportedly provoked him with statements made in text messages, in one telling him to “go visit” his dead brother.

Fort Lauderdale juvenile defense attorneys know that arguing insanity due to PTSD will bring up a mired of complex legal and medical issues. Yet mental health must always be a focus of the justice system — particularly in cases where a juvenile is involved. In this case, it may be one of the best options available to attorneys, given the purported evidence against the 15-year-old defendant, who is charged with first-degree attempted murder.

In cases where there is a great deal of evidence indicating guilt – and the defendant admits to having committed the crime – plea bargaining is usually the route that makes the most sense. In many cases, a skilled attorney can negotiate pleas to lesser charges or a lesser penalty for the same charge, during the plea-bargain process.

Generally speaking, insanity should be a rare defense, reserved for those cases when it is legitimate and other defense options have been considered and rejected.

Florida Statute 775.027 allows for a defense of insanity when the following criteria are met:

1. The person had a mental infirmity, defect or disease;
2. Because of that condition, the defendant did not know what he or she was doing or the consequences;

3. Or, the defendant knew what he or she was doing, but did not know that what he or she was doing was wrong.

So not only must you show that you suffered from mental illness, you further have to show that you either didn’t know what you were doing or didn’t know what you were doing was wrong.

That’s a high bar.

The way the criminal justice system is set up, it is incumbent upon prosecutors to prove guilt in a case. However, with an insanity defense, the burden of proof is essentially shifts to the defense. That means that it is up to your attorney to prove that you shouldn’t be held responsible for your actions. As an affirmative defense, you are admitting to committing the underlying crime.

While we as a society have come a long way in terms of our understanding and acceptance of mental illness as a real and legitimate problem, insanity defenses are still difficult sells to juries.

The defense attorneys will likely rely heavily upon testimony from the medical experts who diagnosed the defendant. As a juvenile, he faces up to 50 years in prison if convicted. Even if he is found not guilty by reason of insanity, he could still spend years confined in a state mental institution.

While PTSD as a defense may or may not be effective in this case, we will undoubtedly be seeing more examples of it as our soldiers continue to return home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In situations where someone has endured the horrors of combat, such a defense may have a better chance of success.

If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.

Additional Resources:
Fla. teen Wayne Treacy’s defense says he had PTSD when he allegedly beat girl, CBS News Staff Report

More Blog Entries:
New Public Defender Fees Could Impact Quality of Criminal Defense in Broward, July 12, 2012, Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

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