Judge's gavel, handcuffs and book on grey table

Mental Health and Criminal Defense

Brazil Clark, PLLC Oct. 4, 2023

Sometimes, individuals with mental health issues may act violently or passionately and perpetrate acts that may be against the law. However, it may be unfair to charge and convict such a mentally ill defendant for their otherwise unintentional actions. Fortunately, the Tennessee criminal justice system takes mental capacity into consideration during criminal trials so that defendants are not convicted unjustly for a crime related to their mental health disorder. 

Attorney Frank Brazil is ready and poised to defend and represent clients in their criminal cases. As a seasoned Tennessee criminal defense attorney, Frank can examine all of the surrounding details of your case and determine the right legal defenses to help fight your charges. The firm proudly serves clients across Nashville and Rutherford County, Tennessee. 

Common Mental Health Disorders

Mental health disorders are health conditions that are characterized by changes or disruptions in a person's emotions, behavior, or thinking. Some common mental health issues that are usually associated with alleged defendants include: 

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder 

  • Schizophrenia 

  • Depression 

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) 

  • Psychosis 

  • Trauma 

  • Borderline personality disorder 

  • Antisocial personality disorder 

  • Phobias 

  • Addiction and substance use disorder 

  • Mood disorder 

  • Bipolar disorder 

  • Anxiety disorders 

Furthermore, the person may experience the mental health issue moderately, mildly, or severely. This may prompt them to act violently, disruptively, or commit a crime without feeling remorseful. A skilled attorney can review your case details and decide if you can establish a mental health or insanity defense as a legal defense in your case. 

Mental Health as a Defense 

In the state of Tennessee, the insanity defense (mental illness defense) is an affirmative defense that the defense counsel can use during trial. According 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." 

Simply put, mental illness can only be used as a legal defense in a Tennessee criminal case if the accused person's mental health condition makes them unable to understand the nature, severity, or wrongfulness of their actions. However, the defense attorney must provide clear and convincing evidence to prove the insanity defense. 

Classification of Mental Health Defense

Furthermore, mental health defense can be classified into competency and criminal responsibility. 

Criminal Responsibility 

Criminal responsibility is an affirmative legal defense that prioritizes the accused person's mental health state at the time of committing the criminal act. However, their defense attorney must provide factual evidence of persistent or periodic mental health disorder to prove criminal responsibility.   


Competency is a legal defense focusing on the defendant's mental limitations at the current time. If the defendant is mentally incompetent and unable to stand trial or understand the proceedings, the court may order an outpatient evaluation. 

Proving Mental Health Claims  

Furthermore, to prove an insanity defense or mental health claim in the state of Tennessee, the defense counsel must show two important things: 

  • The offender is unable to appreciate the nature of their criminal actions. 

  • The offender cannot distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. 

A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can help build your case and collect significant evidence and facts to prove your insanity defense. 

Sentencing and Rights of Prisoners with Mental Health Disorders

Under Tennessee law, to determine whether a defendant has a mental health disorder and is unable to stand trial, the court must order an outpatient assessment for the person. If the outpatient evaluator recommends additional treatment or evaluation, the court may order that the alleged defendant should be hospitalized. 

However, the patient may only be hospitalized in the department facility for at most 30 days. The court may order further evaluation and treatment to determine whether the defendant is competent enough to stand trial. Depending on the outcome of the assessment and other surrounding circumstances, the defendant may be discharged once they have received the necessary treatment. 

Protecting Your Rights, Your Future, and Your Best Interests

Facing criminal allegations can be terrifying, especially for an offense related to your mental health disorder. Attorney Frank Brazil is dedicated to handling criminal cases and protecting mentally ill defendants from the worst possible situation. As your legal counsel, he can investigate your case details, explore your available legal defenses, and seek to prove mental health defense. In addition, Attorney Frank Brazil will fight to uphold your freedom and improve your chances of a better tomorrow. 

Contact Brazil Clark, PLLC, today to schedule a simple case evaluation with a trusted criminal defense lawyer. Attorney Frank Brazil can help you navigate the Tennessee criminal justice system and represent you intelligently at every phase of the court process. The firm proudly serves clients across Nashville and Rutherford County, Tennessee.