A little while ago, a Sergeant who had been overseas in Iraq, faced a court-martial when he attacked German civilians at a club. Defense attorneys immediately got on the case and determined that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which could have caused him to lash out at the civilians. He pleaded guilty to kicking a German civilian in the head during the brawl as well as striking another member. On the subject, he was noted as saying, “When I get put in stressful situations, sometimes I just, well, the two things I pled guilty to… that’s not how somebody should react to a situation like that.”
Since October 2001, about 1.6 million U.S. troops have been deployed overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan, and 20% of those returning will suffer symptoms of PTSD. It is a very real disorder that effects men and women alike after they have been involved in desperate situations in these countries filled with war and death. David Court, a civilian lawyer who has taken many of these cases, said, “The more people are in those environments the more likely they are to have some kind of effect.” So can PTSD actually be used as a legal defense in some cases? Let’s find out.
The truth is, many cases involving PTSD do not go immediately to trial. No, usually a plea agreement will come into play, which is a way for the prosecutor and defense attorney to work out a deal on your behalf. Through a plea deal, you may sustain many benefits such as pleading guilty of a lesser crime and spending less time in prison for your actions. PTSD can work in your favor when you have been charged with a non-violent crime because the system will work with you to implement the help that you need. You may instead be ordered to serve parole and receive in-patient treatment rather than see a day in prison. In some cases, a prosecutor may even choose to drop the charges entirely, which works to your benefit.
Using PTSD as a Defense
Let’s say that a plea agreement is not an option – in this case, your charges will be seen on trial and you will have the chance to use one of many defenses. The fact that you have suffered from PTSD for any reason could be used in trial and you may see lesser charges because of this fact. Let’s say, for example, that you had a flashback during a fight and believed that you were in a war zone. This could be used as a defense if you punched somebody while the event was happening. Here are some ways in which you can use PTSD as a defense:
- Insanity: In these cases, your defense attorney must be able to prove that you had no idea that your actions were wrong in your specific case. However, many of these people will then see time in a mental institution instead of a prison, so you must consider much in your case.
- Self-Defense: Perhaps your PTSD symptoms caused you to act in a way that had you defending your life. You may be left off on the basis of self-defense if this is the case. However, your attorney will have to prove that you believed you were being attacked for this defense to work.
If you are looking to use PTSD as a legal defense, there are many things that you must first discuss with your attorney. For instance, you may be looking to get your sentence reduced or receive the help that you need after suffering from a PTSD episode. Speak to your defense attorney today for the help that you deserve. Give us a call to handle your case.