Parnham & Associates
Criminal Law Attorneys in Houston, Texas
"The standards presently in place are extremely archaic and do nothing for mental illness, and in this case, for women. We have an opportunity in this case to help the mentally ill, particularly those entangled in the justice system."
- George Parnham, prior to 2nd trial of Andrea Yates. Mr. Parnham has been the lead defense counsel for such high-profile clients as Andrea Yates and Clara Harris.
When it comes to criminal law cases, an experienced and effective criminal defense attorney can mean the difference between a prison sentence and reduced or dismissed charges. The lawyers of Parnham & Associates are dedicated to defending the rights of the accused and our criminal defense attorneys are committed to the presumption of innocence. Even in less serious cases, a good criminal defense attorney can make a serious impact on the outcome of the case by ensuring that the rights of the accused are protected throughout the legal process. For these and other reasons, it is vital that those accused of a crime select the most competent, experienced and effective attorney available.
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The Insanity Plea in Criminal Cases
The law firm of Parnham and Associates handles offenses charged by both the State and Federal Court systems, nationally and within the State of Texas. The firm's extensive experience in criminal defense ranges from simple to complex litigation.
What is the Insanity Defense?
In criminal trials, an insanity defense may be used when the defendant claims that they were not responsible for their actions due to a psychiatric illness. There are different definitions of legal insanity, which is a legal term rather than a medical term.
An insanity defense is based on evaluations by forensic professionals that the defendant was incapable of distinguishing between (legal) right and wrong or appreciating the nature of his or her actions at the time of the offense. (This is other states' standards, as well as to a degree, the Federal Standard.) The Texas Standard, however, is more limited. An individual must be so severely mentally ill that he or she did not know that their conduct was wrong.
Those found to have been not guilty by reason of insanity are required to undergo psychiatric treatment, and are placed in a mental institution. Unlike defendants who are found guilty of a crime they are not institutionalized for a fixed period, but rather held in the institution until they are determined not to be a threat. Defendants can often be incarcerated for longer than they would have been in prison. The trial court has jurisdiction over the acquitted person for the length of time the sentence would carry had the defendant been convicted.
"Temporary Insanity" or "Diminished Capacity" Defense:
Diminished responsibility or diminished capacity can be employed as a mitigating factor and in the United States is applicable to more circumstances than the insanity defense. For example, some jurisdictions accept inebriation or other drug intoxication as mitigating factors while intoxication is not accepted as an insanity defense on its own. If diminished responsibility or capacity is presented convincingly, the charges may be reduced to a lesser offense or the sentence may be more lenient.
Incompetency and Insanity:
There is an important distinction in the difference between competency and criminal responsibility:
- The issue of competency is determined by evaluating whether a defendant is able to adequately assist his attorney in preparing a defense, make informed decisions about trial strategy and determining whether or not defendant has a rational, as well as factual understanding of the process.
- Insanity (or lack of criminal responsibility) refers to whether a defendant can be held legally responsible for his or her criminal behavior.
Insanity is a legal concept, not a psychiatric concept. Having a diagnosed mental disorder is not sufficient reason, from the court's point of view, to relieve a defendant from all responsibility for illegal acts they may commit: the mental disorder must be of such a degree as to render the individual incapable of knowing that his/her conduct was wrong.
The Federal Insanity Defense Reform Act:
The federal Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 is a law passed in the wake of public outrage after John Hinckley, Jr.'s acquittal for the Reagan assassination attempt. It amended the United States federal laws governing defendants with mental diseases or defects to make it significantly more difficult to obtain a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Before the Hinckley verdict, a majority of states had the burden of proof resting with the Prosecutor; that is, the Prosecutor had to prove that the defendant was not insane. After the Hinckley verdict, the vast majority of states now require the defense to prove that the defendant was indeed insane.
In states where the burden is on the defense to prove insanity, the defense is required to show either by clear and convincing evidence or by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is insane. In states where the burden is still on prosecutors to prove sanity they are required to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
In March of 2009 George Parnham, along with Texas State Rep. Jessica Farrar, introduced legislation to modify the penalty phase of trials in which a mother's mental illness was a mitigating factor. This legal modification has been accepted by other countries, but not yet in the U.S.
Mr. Parnham's insistence that juries and legislators consider context and mental capacity will help move focus from verdict to treatment and catalyze a societal shift from outraged condemnation to awareness and primary prevention. He is totally committed to ensuring that his clients are heard and, to whatever extent possible, understood. In instances where misrepresentation or misstatement about the factual circumstances of an accusation have been leaked to the public, whether intentionally or not, it is imperative to "set the record straight" and do whatever can be done to level the playing field of public opinion.
Mr. Parnham initiated the Yates Children Memorial Fund. The Yates Children Memorial Fund (YCMF) is named after Russell and Andrea Yates' children: Noah, John, Paul, Luke and Mary. It was created June, 2002, and sponsored by Mental Health America of Greater Houston (MHA Houston) to fund women's mental health education. Knowledge and understanding is the key to prevention. It is his sincere desire that the lives of these children will be forever memorialized through this effort.
Criminal defense strategies applied in these situations need to be created for the particular offense, evidence involved and based upon the defendant's needs. Contact Parnham & Associates today at (713) 224.3967 or use our convenient online submission form. We will work tirelessly to ensure the best possible outcome for your case. .
Our attorneys are intimately familiar with all facets of criminal defense and may help clients with the following:
- Work to get the charges dropped or lowered
- Interview police, involved parties, and any possible witnesses to expose any lies or exaggerations
- Make sure that no evidence against our client was obtained illegally
- Conduct a thorough pre-trial investigation
- Employ a private investigator, ballistics expert, polygraphist, or any other experts that may be able to help strengthen our client's defense
- Obtain expert witnesses to testify on behalf of our clients
- Negotiate with prosecutors to make sure our clients face the minimum possible penalties
If you have been accused of a crime, please contact us today for a free consultation with an aggressive and resourceful criminal defense attorney. We will work tirelessly to ensure the best possible outcome for your case.
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The Law Office of Parnham & Associates
440 Louisiana St., Suite 200 (The Lyric Centre), Houston, TX 77002
Phone: (713) 224.3967 | Fax: 713.224.2815
This information is provided for general informational purpose only. This information: • DOES NOT represent a legal advice or opinion, • DOES NOT create an attorney-client relationship, • DOES NOT account for community-supervision eligibility, special punishment issues, mandatory minimum confinement, enhancements, and "Exceptional Sentences" under Chapter 12 Subchapter D of the Texas Penal Code, • DOES NOT apply Corporations & Associations. • DOES NOT represent the unique circumstances of your case.