What roles do mental health reports play in Connecticut trials?

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By Matthew Maddox / September 29, 2023

There is little question that current approaches to criminal prosecution in Connecticut and across the United States do a disservice to those with mental health disorders. Research has only begun to expose how the courts may improperly handle cases involving criminal defendants with mental health issues ranging from personality disorders to substance abuse issues.

Mental health experts are among the numerous professionals who are acutely aware of the failings of the current approach to handling criminal matters in court. Psychologists, psychiatrists, family therapists and even social workers can sometimes play an important role in an individual’s criminal defense. They can write a report that helps provide crucial background for the courts, for example.

The courts can order an evaluation

Occasionally, possibly because of questions about someone’s competency to stand trial, the courts can request an evaluation of someone who may have mental health challenges. The professionals who perform those evaluations for the state may produce an in-depth report. They may recommend prosecution or determine that someone’s mental state means they should not stand trial.

A defense attorney may choose to retain a different professional to perform a slightly more in-depth evaluation. They might also reach out to someone who has previously treated the defendant to ask them to put together a report. Such reports include details about the testing process, including what indications there are of a mental health issue and the likely diagnosis for the patient.

Perhaps someone has a dissociative disorder. Their tendency to dissociate during stressful moments or after specific triggers could explain behavior that does not align with their typical conduct. A history of struggling with substance abuse could also help explain certain behaviors. Mental health experts may even be able to connect someone’s substance abuse disorder to childhood trauma or previously untreated mental health disorders.

Not only can such a report potentially evaluate what someone’s state of mind may have been at the time of a criminal incident, but it can also include information about whether treatment and rehabilitation are viable options for the defendant. Mental health professionals putting together such reports could play a role in helping someone connect with treatment instead of standard criminal prosecution. They could also help someone facing a criminal trial prove that there were mitigating circumstances that could reduce the severity of their offense.

Ultimately, understanding how a mental health evaluation may impact criminal proceedings can help those putting together a report as well as those facing prosecution in Connecticut.