Mental illness is a very difficult issue to approach in our nation’s criminal justice system. When an alleged perpetrator is the victim of mental illness, it’s difficult to know how responsible he or she is for his or her actions, and it’s therefore tough to determine a suitable punishment. State and federal charges must be examined carefully and individually, with an eye toward what sentence will do the most good for society while still addressing the mental needs of the accused.
Take, for instance, a Maryland man who was recently sentenced in a controversial murder-for-hire case in Annapolis. The man attempted to hire a hitman to murder his wife, claiming he could no longer tolerate her presence. The hitman, however, was an undercover police officer who secretly recorded their conversation, providing the officer with the evidence required to secure a conviction.
The attempted crime is indeed horrible, but according to the man’s defense attorneys there was a reason for the man’s actions. As a former soldier in Afghanistan, the man suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Indeed, friends and family noted the severe changes that overtook the man upon his return from overseas. Before fighting in the war, he was described as a calm, thoughtful man. Afterward, however, he was given to sudden rages over trivial matters, such as a motorist failing to use a turn signal.
These “rants” were in evidence in the undercover police video, in which the man went on a lengthy tirade that jumped quickly from one subject to the next.
Despite the allegations in the case, the man’s family has stood behind him since his arrest; his wife begged the judge for leniency.
The case is compelling because it contained both powerful evidence for the man’s guilt and powerful evidence that the man was not acting as a mentally healthy man would act. In the end, though the defense argued that the judge should view the situation with an eye on the man’s mental illness, he still applied the six-year prison term, stating that there were some things “society cannot put a seal of approval on.”
Source: Leesburg Today, “Maryland Man To Serve 6 Years In Murder-For-Hire Plot” Erika Jacobson Moore, Sep. 27, 2013