Female Attorney talking to accused prisoner

Mental Health and Criminal Defense

Law Offices of Fisher Wise April 11, 2023

A mental health disorder or illness – such as anxiety, trauma, depression, PTSD, or bipolar disorder – can make a person aggressive, unable to control their emotions, or prompt them to commit a crime. Surprisingly, many alleged offenders facing criminal charges in Tennessee might have committed the crime due to their mental health issues. In order to find the defendant guilty of the charges, the prosecutor must be able to establish action and intent. 

If you or someone close to you has been arrested for an offense in connection with their mental health problem, you need to hire a strategic Tennessee criminal defense attorney for clear legal guidance. At the Law Offices of Fisher Wise, I give my all to defend and represent individuals with mental health issues in their criminal cases. I can work to understand the surrounding circumstances of your unique situation and help strategize a solid defense to fight your charges. 

My firm proudly serves clients throughout Chattanooga, East Ridge, Red Bank, Rhea County, Marion County, and Sequatchie County, Tennessee. 

Common Mental Health Disorders  

Mental health disorders comprise different mental health problems affecting a person's behavior, thinking, and emotion. Here are some common mental health disorders: 

  • Schizophrenia 

  • Anxiety disorders 

  • Bipolar disorder 

  • Psychotic disorders 

  • Disruptive behavior and dissocial disorders 

  • Trauma 

  • Panic disorder 

  • Phobias 

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 

  • Mood disorders 

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) 

  • Addiction and substance use disorder 

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) 

  • Psychosis 

  • Depression 

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder 

Notwithstanding the severity of the person's condition, a mental illness can make a person act passionately and commit a crime. A practiced legal counsel can review all of the facts of your personal situation and determine whether you can use mental health as a legal defense during trial. 

Mental Health as a Defense  

In Tennessee, the insanity defense (mental illness defense) is an affirmative defense that can be used by a lawyer in a criminal case. Pursuant to Tennessee Code Section 39-11-501 (a), 

"It is an affirmative defense to prosecution that, at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the defendant, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature or wrongfulness of the defendant's acts." 

From the above statute, a mental illness by itself cannot be used as a legal defense, except if the mental health condition makes it impossible for the alleged defendant to "appreciate the nature or wrongfulness" of their actions. The defense counsel has the burden of proving an insanity defense with clear and convincing evidence. 

Additionally, mental health defenses can be classified into criminal responsibility and competency. 

Criminal Responsibility 

Criminal responsibility is an affirmative legal defense which focuses on the mental health of the defendant when the offense was committed. The defense counsel must provide factual evidence of episodic or persistent mental health illness in order to prove criminal responsibility.   


Competency is a legal defense that focuses on the mental limitations of the defendant at the present time. If the defendant is incompetent to stand trial in the state of Tennessee, they would be ordered to be evaluated on an outpatient basis. 

Proving Mental Health Claims 

According to a recent crime study, nearly 18% of the 429 cases analyzed were directly or mostly related to the mental health condition of the defendant. In order to establish a mental health claim or insanity defense in Tennessee, the defense counsel must prove that: 

  • The defendant cannot appreciate the nature of their criminal actions. 

  • The defendant is unable to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. 

A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can gather substantial evidence to establish your insanity defense and guide you through the legal process involved. 

No Matter Your Struggles, We Are Here to Fight for You

When facing criminal charges, establishing mental health disorder as a legal defense can be quite difficult, but not impossible. If successful, you may be able to achieve lesser punishment, alternative sentencing, or get the prosecutor to dismiss or drop the charges against you. At the Law Offices of Fisher Wise, I give aggressive representation to individuals with mental health issues in their criminal cases. 

As your lawyer, I can investigate your case details carefully and decide if you can use mental health claim as a legal defense for your situation. Also, I will represent you intelligently at every stage of the court process, help establish an insanity defense, or attempt to prove your innocence. I will keep fighting for your freedom and ensure that you're not convicted for your otherwise unintentional acts. 

Contact me at the Law Offices of Fisher Wise today to speak with a skilled criminal defense lawyer. I have the personalized legal counsel and reliable representation you need in your case. My firm proudly serves clients throughout Chattanooga, East Ridge, Red Bank, Rhea County, Marion County, and Sequatchie County, Tennessee.