This afternoon I was in Rockland to resolve a challenging and disturbing case. My client exhibited clear mental health issues throughout the time I represented her, was evaluated by a series of doctors, and ultimately was found competent to stand trial. 

It was an outcome that took months longer than it should have, and it resulted in a plea offer my client was thrilled to accept, but it all masks the reality that our society is using the jails and the courts to resolve mental health problems that really belong in the hands of medical professionals.

The standards used by the State Forensic Service and the courts are pretty rigid when competence and criminal responsibility are concerned. The application of these standards results in plenty of people who are at best marginally competent (or who were not competent at all when they committed their crimes) being forced through the criminal justice system and the jails instead of receiving treatment in hospitals.

Today I managed to get my client released from jail with conditions that ought to help guide her away from the kind of self-destructive behavior she exhibited last summer. But there really ought to be a better way to address issues of people like her without involving the courts.

AuthorJonathan Handelman