Amnesia: A Defense to Criminal Charges?To be convicted of a crime in the State of California, a person must have had the mental state to commit the criminal act. One may wonder if someone with amnesia would be held responsible for breaking the law if he or she had no recollection of doing it?

Just what is amnesia? It is a loss of memory caused by psychological or physical trauma. It is important to note, though, that amnesia is not the same as lacking the mental status required to be charged and convicted of a crime. Why? The inability to recall breaking the law does not mean that the defendant did not intend to commit it.

What is important is the mental state of the offender at the time the crime was committed. If a case where amnesia resulted after a crime occurred, it commonly has no impact on the case because what matters is the person’s competency at the time of the crime. Amnesia is not a quality defense, typically.

Competent to Stand Trial?

Even though amnesia is not a common defense to use to explain criminal activity, it can be a factor when considering if a defendant is able to stand on trial. If someone has amnesia, the courts may feel he or she is not competent enough to go through a trial. The courts consider several factors when contemplating whether or not a defendant is able to stand trial. These include:

  • whether the defendant has the ability to talk about the defense of the case
  • whether the amnesia is temporary or permanent
  • whether the crime can be reconstructed without the defendant’s testimony, and
  • the strength of the prosecution’s case.

If a defendant has amnesia, a judge may consider this factor during sentencing and a penalty may be altered, as well.

Memories are Important

It is possible to be made to stand on trial for a crime that you have no recollection of ever committing. Being labeled as a criminal has serious consequences and can negatively impact your life. Not being able to recall the details surrounding a crime can be very scary. If you question someone’s ability to stand trial for an alleged crime, contact the Law Office of Peter Blair to discuss the case. A professional criminal defense attorney can help you better understand how someone’s mental competence can impact a case.