My Paxil Made me Rob a Bank

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on January 24, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Georgia defendant Feliz Vega Jr. is using a unique defense during his trial. He claims his criminal actions resulted from his anti-depressant medication, Paxil. So the bank robbery that he allegedly committed? He couldn't have formed the requisite criminal intent.

Vega's attorney Peter Johnson plans to call expert witnesses to bolster his legal argument.

Johnson will essentially argue that his client was mentally incompetent at the time.

Vega is accused of robbing a Bank of America in 2010. He allegedly entered the bank donning batting gloves, a ball cap, and a ski mask. He even wielded a paintball gun. He ordered tellers to place cash into "happy birthday" bags.

He left the bank with $12,000. But his payday was short-lived. Police caught up with him shortly after using a satellite tracking device that a teller placed into one of his bags. Vega led the police on a chase until he crashed into a fence and another car, reports The Augusta Chronicle.

The "Paxil defense" is something that Assistant District Attorney Hank Syms is unfamiliar with. Syms did indicate that about a third of defendants who plead guilty claim they were under the effects of some sort of medicine.

It's not that uncommon for defendants to assert these types of defenses. An accused suspect's ability to form the required mens rea is important to the crime. Some crimes require specific mental states. For example, first-degree murder may require "intentional" actions by the accused.

This difference is crucial. And in certain circumstances if a defendant is unable to form the right mens rea they cannot be convicted. A defendant's mental state is often an element of the crime. So Feliz Vega Jr.'s "Paxil" bank robbery defense could work -- if proven.

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