Monday, January 7, 2008

Mental Health-Related Actions of the 80th Texas Legislature

The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health recently released its "Legislative Update: A Guide to the Mental Health-Related Actions of the 80th Texas Legislature." This summary of mental health-related actions by the 80th Texas Legislature is now available online:

It includes information about mental-health related legislation in such areas as criminal justice, appropriations for public mental health services, juvenile justice, health insurance, and civil commitment proceedings.

Of most relevance to this blog is the summary of attempts to reform Texas' insanity defense statute (pp. 44-45), which were not successful. House Bill 2795, authored by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), sought to change the language of the current insanity defense to allow for a more thorough inquiry into how mental illness impacts a defendant's capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his or her conduct. The bill also sought to provide information to a jury about the consequences of declaring a defendant "Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity." Under the current statute, juries are not told that most defendants found NGRI "are committed to a state hospital and remain under the jurisdiction of the court for a duration not to exceed the sentence limits allowed for the crime."

According to the report, "some argue that the lack of jury instructions regarding the insanity defense prevents jurors from adequately contemplating the consequences of their decision on the life of the defendant and the safety of the community." House Bill 2795 passed out of committee but was not considered by the full House.

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