Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Grits commenter played role initiating lawsuit over timely competency restoration

The SA Express News had an editorial today praising a district court ruling last week requiring state mental hospitals to timely accept defendants for "competency restoration" who've been deemed incompetent to stand trial by the courts. Here's a notable excerpt:
In San Antonio, criminal defendants in need of a bed in a state psychiatric facility are routinely spending months in the Bexar County jail waiting for transfer.

Late last week, there were 17 inmates at the Bexar County jail awaiting transfer to a state hospital bed. Some of them have been in the county jail for almost 300 days.

In what many hail as a major court victory for the mentally ill in Texas, state District Judge Orlinda Naranjo has ordered the Department of State Health Services to transfer defendants who have been ruled incompetent to stand trial due to mental illness to a state psychiatric hospital within 21 days of receiving a judge's order, the Austin American Statesman reported.

That is indeed great news for advocates and the families of defendants with mental health problems who have fought long and hard against the criminalization of the mentally ill. Mental health patients need treatment and should not be held in local lockups. On average, mentally incompetent prisoners are spending up to six months in jail before being transferred to a state hospital.

The state attorney general's office has not yet decided if it will appeal the judge's ruling.

Complying with the judge's order will be a major undertaking. Over the last two years, there has been a waiting list of about 400 inmates for the 800 available state hospital beds.
I had forgotten about the backstory to this lawsuit when Grits wrote about it on Friday, but as it turns out this litigation actually originated - believe it or not - from a comment posted on this blog. As recounted in this 2006 post, the group Advocacy Inc. (which has now changed its name to Disability Rights Texas) first learned about the issue from  a Grits post, filing the lawsuit after investigating the case of a commenter who turned out to be an attorney with an incompetent client. Of course, Beth Mitchell and the lawyers at Disability Rights Texas did all the work, and the situation is so messed up that surely litigation was inevitable, anyway. But I'm pleased as punch at the small role this blog played in initiating the process.

MORE: From the Texas Observer.


Anonymous said...

Kudos to making a difference that you can see!

ckikerintulia said...

Right on Grits

Miscellaneous Lawyer said...


The issue of mental health in criminal law is one that I think really needs exploring. In Australia there are plenty of provisions for ruling a person incompetent to commit a crime, but once the Court process is complete, there isn't much in the way of follow-up. The Court has a discretion to order supervision, but has rarely tended to supervise in a more active way, such as overseeing clinical support.

R v Scobie ([2003] SASC 85 (24 March 2003)) is a fascinating example of the way the Court CAN intervene. Justice Grey is a very interventionist judge, and the efforts he put in to dealing with this person's offending habits is amazing.

LLR said...

It would be nice if the same attention was paid to the complaints from your general readership that was paid to the lawyer. However, Kudos to Grits and congrats to the lawyer. Good luck on this case.

My nephew, a paranoid schizophrenic, was routinely ignored as a mentally ill person after shooting his 92 year old grandfather to death. He was jailed for over two years before he was given a trial. During those two years the court shifted him every few months from county to county jail. He was given the option of a plea by his court appointed lawyer, but when he refused the lawyer failed to appear or stay in contact until my nephew was given notice that trial would begin the next day! The jury handed him 97 years and off he went to Huntsville. Still without medication, he writes me that the medical department at his prison refuses to listen to his complaint that he is still besieged by delusions and voices. This is justice?

Anonymous said...

Power of the pen & free speech!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

LLR, I'm really sorry to hear about your nephew's tragic situation. What a terrible, heart breaking story. Good luck.