Last month, lawyers for Palestinian American community leader and activist Rasmea Odeh (associate director for the Arab-American Arab Network) argued before a U.S. Appeal court that Odeh was denied her constitutional right to a fair trial. In November of 2014, Odeh was convicted of immigration fraud by a jury in federal court in Michigan for failing to disclose her prior conviction, arrest, and imprisonment by an Israeli military court.
In 1969, the Israeli military charged Odeh with helping to coordinate a pair of bombings in Jerusalem that left two men dead. She has always maintained her innocence in these matters. More importantly, the court in Michigan sentenced Odeh to 18 months imprisonment, ordered her to pay a $1,00 fine, and stripped her of her U.S. citizenship. She now faces deportation back to Jordan after she serves her sentence. US District Judge Gershwin Drain who had presided over her trial barred Odeh from speaking about the torture and abuse she suffered in Israeli detention. He also did not allow her to call an expert witness to testify that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder because Odeh asserts she did not knowingly lie on her immigration and naturalization applications.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a Legal Defense
Post traumatic stress disorder is defined by the Mayo clinic “as a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event.” Symptoms may include nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, and depression. In the criminal law context, PTSD may serve as an affirmative defense or raised as an evidence of mitigation to help the defendant receive alternative sentencing or more lenient treatment. Affirmative defenses that can be offered are insanity and diminished capacity. With diminished capacity, one would argue that the defendant was less capable than a normal person of having the required mental state for the offense. In other words, due to his/her diminished capacity, s/he did not have the wrongful intent to commit the crime.
If PTSD is used as a mitigation factor, you must show that due to your emotional trauma, your behavior did not rise to as a high level of culpability as it otherwise would have. For example Section 1170.9 of California Penal Code allows judges to sentence certain military veterans suffering from PTSD to treatment instead of jail or prison. The statute allows veterans to seek treatment instead of jail time if a veteran committed their crime as a result of PTSD. If a defendant alleges s/he is eligible under the statute, he/she will have to ask for a hearing to determine eligibility. Continue reading