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Does Amnesia Work as a Defense to Criminal Charges?


amnesia and criminal chargesIn order to be held criminally responsible for a crime, you must have the mental state to commit that crime. If you accidentally hit someone, for example, you may not be guilty of assault or battery. That being said, your attorney will need to prove to the courts that you were not aware of your actions – and that is not necessarily as simple as stating you “don’t remember.”

Amnesia: Is That a Valid Defense?

Amnesia is a memory loss that is caused by trauma (physical or psychological). It is not the same, however, as having a mental status issue. So, when you commit a crime and then claim that you do not recall what happened due to amnesia, you are not providing a valid defense.

Not being able to remember committing a crime doesn’t mean that you didn’t intend to commit that crime. Your mental state at the time of your actions is what matters to the court. Amnesia, which occurs after the crime has been committed, has no effect on your conduct or influence, whether or not you knew what you were doing at the time of the crime. Amnesia, in most cases, is not a viable defense tactic. However, if you suffered amnesia at the time of the crime, you may have a valid insanity defense.

Assessing Your Capacity to Stand Trial

While amnesia is not a defense itself, the courts will consider whether or not you can stand trial due to your amnesia – and assess your overall competency. When they are considering amnesia in regard to your ability to stand trial, the courts will assess several factors:

  1. Whether you can discuss your defense of the case with your attorneys.
  2. If the amnesia is a permanent or temporary issue.
  3. If the crime can still be reconstructed without your testimony.
  4. If any government files are available to help prepare the case.
  5. The strength of the state’s case.

Sentencing and Amnesia Cases

While using a claim of amnesia for your guilt or innocence is rare, it could impact your sentencing. A judge can use the issue of amnesia, especially if it is medically proven, to determine the proper sentencing – and he or she may rely on mandatory minimums, or offer minimum sentences instead of the maximum. For example, if your amnesia was not admissible as part of your defense for your crime, but the judge or jury does believe that you suffered from amnesia, then they could consider this while determining your penalty.

Have You Been Arrested for a Crime? Explore Your Defense Options

Even if your state of mind is not a question, you need to have yourself, and the facts of your case, assessed to decide what defense is best for you. The defense attorneys at New Mexico Criminal Law Offices can help. We have experience handling a multitude of crimes – from homicides to drug charges to domestic violence. Call us today to schedule a free case evaluation and explore your options at 505-375-4664, or fill out our online contact form with your legal questions.