Houston Criminal Defense Blog

Acting Intentionally and Knowingly During a Mental Health Blackout

Houston-Criminal-Defense_02-1000-ffccccccWhite-3333-0.20.3-1[1]By: Betsy Stukes

In order to be convicted of some crimes, the State must prove that the person committed the act “intentionally or knowingly.” Some examples of crimes that fall under this mental state are murder and burglary, but on the other end of the spectrum, criminal mischief and graffiti demand the same mental state. But what if someone blacks out due mental health issues and does not remember their actions when they allegedly committed a crime? What if those mental health issues are well-documented and the person can show that blackouts have occurred in the past during manic episodes? Can that person still be convicted of a crime that requires he act intentionally and knowingly? Unfortunately, and somewhat illogically, the answer is yes, he or she can still be convicted.

In one particularly relevant Texas criminal case (Jackson v. State, 160 S.W. 3d 568 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005), a man was charged with murder, requiring the State to prove that he acted “intentionally and knowingly.” The man had a serious and documented history of mental illness as he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, both of which caused psychotic episodes. His family testified that one minute he was himself and the next minute he was a different person. A forensic psychiatrist testified that these illnesses were serious mental health issues that cause a skewed perception of reality and could severely affect the behavior or violent tendencies of the person who suffers from the illnesses. Despite the extensive evidence of severe mental illness, the jury found the man guilty, and the court found that he was capable of acting “intentionally and knowingly.”

Under the current law, a judge may (but does not have to) allow evidence of mental illness during the guilt phase of a trial, and a judge must allow evidence of mental illness during the punishment phase of a trial. The defense may never argue that the mentally ill person is incapable of acting “intentionally or knowingly,” but may attempt to show a reasonable jury that mental illness is something well worth considering in a criminal matter.

Texas’ solution to people who commit crimes during psychotic breaks and blackouts due to mental illness is to incarcerate them—how helpful. We will see how that well works for them and for the citizens of Texas as well.

Categories: Criminal Defense