Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Does state's appeal of fed court's competency ruling further mistreatment of jailed mentally ill?

Posted By on Wed, Jun 17, 2015 at 1:15 PM

The Department of Social and Health Services has a problem with a federal judge's ruling.

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman ruled in April that criminal defendants must receive competency evaluations within seven days of a court order. If a defendant is found incompetent to stand trial, he or she must be transferred to Washington State Hospital or Eastern State Hospital. The seven-day timeframe is also suggested by state law.

DSHS is appealing the portion of the ruling that requires evaluations within seven days of the court order, saying that timeframe could be too short and produce a false positive result for mental illness. The rationale is that defendants could still be coming down off drugs.

"If you determine that someone is mentally ill when they're actually not, that takes up precious bed space in the hospital," says Kathy Spears, a spokeswoman for DSHS. 

Kari Reardon, a Spokane public defender for almost 20 years, can only shake her head at the appeal. Many of Reardon's clients have mental illnesses, and she says competency evaluations are almost never ordered on the same day as arrests. 

"Mental health evaluations are generally ordered after the defendant has met with a lawyer and that lawyer has questioned their ability to rationally assist in their defense," Reardon says. "To delay this further amounts to mentally ill people sitting in our jails not receiving the services they need." 

She gives an example of a client, Sidappa Tall, who was arrested February 14. Tall's competency evaluation wasn't ordered until February 23, after Reardon had a chance to meet with him. Tall's evaluation took place more than a month later. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and recommended for a transfer to Eastern State Hospital for treatment. 

CORRECTION: Tall has been sitting in Spokane County Jail for 123 days (as of June 17) without medication, not 58 as previously stated. It's been 58 days since his was evaluated and ordered treatment at Eastern State Hospital. 

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