diminished capacity

Diminished capacity as a defense to criminal charges – There are a lot of misconceptions in regards to criminal law and criminal defense in particular.  Most of them stem from things people have observed in movies and television shows.  We do our best to dispel some of these myths, and we hope that this is one of those times.

A very commonly misunderstood concept is that of diminished capacity. Some people think that it is some get out of jail free card that can be faked at will, but it is a lot more complicated than that.  The diminished capacity defense is not something that is used successfully very often, and can be difficult to apply.

In this blog, we will talk a little bit about diminished capacity in criminal trials, and how it works. This is for Informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice and counsel of a criminal defense lawyer.

What is the diminished capacity defense?

Diminished capacity is an affirmative defense that can be asserted by someone who is charged with a crime.  The purpose of the diminished capacity defense is to negate specific intent associated with a particular crime. Meaning, that the defendant is admitting that something happened but is asserting that he is not responsible for it.

Negating the specific intent of a crime can either necessitate a finding of not guilty or it can result in a jury finding the defendant guilty of a lesser included offense instead.  For example, diminished capacity is often used in first degree murder cases, to trigger the finding of a lower level homicide.

When can diminished capacity be used as a defense?

Diminished capacity can only be effective as a defense against specific intent crimes, and is not effective against general intent crimes (read about the difference here).  Also, notice typically has to be given to the government when the defense intends to assert this defense.  The timeframe and the form of the notice depends on the jurisdiction.

Burden of proof

Anyone in the United States who is accused of a crime has a presumption of innocence, and it is the government’s responsibility to overcome the that burden.  With regards to this specific defense, however, it is the burden of the defense to show that the defendant had a diminished capacity during the commission of the crime.  Once that burden is met, the defendant becomes entitled to a jury instruction on diminished capacity.

What is diminished capacity?

Diminished capacity in its simplest form is when someone does not have the subjective normal state of mind to act and behave thoughtfully.  This can through drug use, alcohol use, a head injury, a mental illness or any number of things.

If you need a Charlotte criminal defense lawyer, contact us.  At Gilles Law, we handle South Carolina criminal defense, North Carolina criminal defense, and federal criminal defense.