Crime and Mental Illness in Illinois

The Cook County Sheriff’s Office reports that 44% of individuals arrested and brought to Cook County jail for intake on May 22 self-reported as mentally ill. Even if we assume that arrestees self-report at a higher rate because they believe claiming mental illness will grant them leniency, it is still an alarming number, and highlights the importance of hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney if you or your loved one suffers from a mental illness and is arrested in Chicago or the surrounding suburbs.

Mental Illness Not a Criminal Defense in Illinois

Illinois defines mental illness as “a substantial disorder of thought, mood, or behavior which afflicted a person at the time of the commission of the offense and which impaired that person’s judgment, but not to the extent that he is unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his behavior.” Contrary to what some may believe, a claim of mental illness is not the same as pleading insanity as a defense. The insanity defense requires that the defendant lack “substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct.”

A person suffering from a mental illness – for example, someone with post-traumatic stress, a type of anxiety disorder – would understand that assaulting his neighbor with a baseball bat is wrong, even though at the moment he was unable to control it. A person suffering from insanity would not believe the attack was wrong and, if successful in pleading insanity, would be absolved of all responsibility.

Is a person suffering from some type of mental illness – whether anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar, or some other illness that, for whatever reason, can momentarily impair his judgment – or even a person suffering from cognitive disabilities, such as a person with Down’s syndrome, held to the same standard as a healthy defendant?

Yes and no.

Mental illness is not a total defense to a crime in Illinois, and so even if both the prosecution and defense agree that the defendant suffered from a mental illness that impaired his judgment, a jury can still find him guilty of a crime. However, defendants often raise it as a defense in court to be granted leniency. And in some cases, the jury or judge will take the defendant’s illness into consideration when reaching a verdict or handing down a sentence, including sending them to an alternate treatment program where they can receive services, rather than simply locking them up in prison.

Mental illness is generally not a driving force behind the commission of crimes. A recent study found that only 7.5% of crimes are committed over the course of symptoms of the defendant’s mental illness, and that 66% of those also committed crimes related to other factors, such as drug abuse, homelessness or being poor. But for individuals suffering from mental illness, an experienced criminal defense attorney is more important than ever.


Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney


If you have been arrested and charged with a crime in Chicago, Cook or Lake Counties, you need an aggressive, experienced criminal defense attorney who will examine all facets of your case in an effort to decrease the charges filed against you or obtain an outright dismissal. If you suffer from a mental illness, not only do you need experience, but you need someone who understands the role that mental illness can play in your defense, and who has mental health experts at the ready to help mount your defense and ask for leniency. Please call 312-560-7100 or contact the Chicago Law offices of David L. Freidberg, P.C. today for a free consultation. We are available 24/7 for your convenience.

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