Post-traumatic stress disorder is a common affliction for veterans returning home from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The impact of PTSD became widely studied after Vietnam veterans returned home suffering from “shell shock” a condition that caused them to react to loud noises, altered personality, caused memory lapses, and even led to violent reactions. In the last few years, PTSD has been raised as a defense for crimes ranging from DUI and traffic citations to violent crimes including assault, domestic violence and homicide. But is it a viable defense?
In any criminal defense matter, an experienced advocate can review the facts of your case to determine what defenses are available in your case. When the crime involves assault or another violent act, it is likely that there will be competing events of the story and you may even be able to claim self-defense. Post-traumatic stress has been used by veterans’ lawyers and lawyers have been found sympathetic to the reality of PTSD. Our Birmingham criminal defense lawyers are experienced with handling a range of cases and will explore every available defense on your behalf. We also stay abreast of developments in the law and the medical research that can support our claims.
Certainly, war veterans are to be commended for their service, not punished for the side effects. We will work with you, the prosecuting attorneys office, and the judge, to secure the best outcome possible in your particular case.
Usually in cases involving veterans and PTSD, the defendant will admit that he or she committed the crime, but raise PTSD as a positive defense. In past cases, PTSD has been raised in cases with extremely violent facts and grisly crime scenes. In 2009, an Army infantryman who was a combat veteran in Iraq claimed that he was not guilty of first-degree murder after violently suffocating his 10 month old step-daughter. According to his lawyers, he was not guilty of first-degree murder because his PTSD prevented him from premeditating the killing of the victim.
Using PTSD as a defense involves removing the necessary “mens rea” or intent to kill, which is necessary in any criminal case. Even if a defendant has committed a crime, the jury must find that the defendant had the specific level of intent to be held guilty. In the prior case, the veteran’s attorney asked that the jurors find the defendant guilty of second-degree murder rather than first-degree murder to avoid the death penalty. Ultimately, that defendant was spared the death penalty.
Veterans who are charged with crimes are more commonly turning to PTSD as a central element in their defense. Medical professionals who study the affliction agree that the disorder can affect disorder and even lead to criminal activity. With more veterans returning home from the war in Alabama and nationwide, many of them will suffer from PTSD. In 2011 there were already more than 170,000 cases of diagnosed PTSD according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Since PTSD has become more commonplace, the question remains whether it will continue to be a viable defense, especially when cases involve violent crimes. In 2011, there were thousands of veterans accused of non-violent crimes and PTSD was used as a mitigating factor in reducing sentences or charges. These veterans who have suffered combat trauma may be able to pursue counseling options and treatment programs.