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Court Contends Defendant is Mentally Ill

On 29 November 2005, defendant entered a plea of not responsible by reason of a mental disease or defect to the crime of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree, and to other related offenses, in violation of criminal laws.

On 23 January 2004, it was alleged that defendant displayed a firearm while threatening to use it against the complainant, the defendant’s sister-in-law, and that said actions caused her fear of physical injury.

A commitment order was issued and the defendant was remanded to the care and custody of the State Commissioner of Mental Health. A New York Criminal Lawyer said the defendant was confined in a secure facility.

On 12 October 2006, defendant was found, although mentally ill, to no longer have a dangerous mental disorder. The defendant was subsequently transferred to Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, a non-secure facility. Since the defendant has been in the custody of the Commissioner, several orders of retention have issued. The defendant is currently still a patient, and resident, of Creedmoor.

On 20 May 2010, the Commissioner has filed an application for a subsequent two- year retention order.

Defendant opposes retention and seeks his conditional release; thus, the instant retention hearing.

The ultimate legal issue is whether or not the application of the Commissioner of Mental Health seeking a subsequent two-year retention order of the defendant should be granted.

In an application for retention, a Manhattan Criminal Lawyer says that the law states that the commissioner must establish to the satisfaction of the court that the defendant has a dangerous mental disorder or is mentally ill. Furthermore, the statute states that if the court finds that the defendant does not have a dangerous mental disorder and is not mentally ill, it must issue a release order and an order of conditions pursuant to statute’s provision.

Should a defendant be released, the Commissioner’s responsibility for, and his supervision over, the defendant would not be terminated. The order only ends the defendant’s in-patient status. The defendant would be subject to an order of conditions, which must issue, and which will guarantee that the defendant will be supervised for years to come, unless the time comes, if ever, when the defendant earns the right to absolute discharge. Furthermore, a violation of the order of conditions will subject the defendant to recommitment to the hospital and to the custody of the Commissioner.

The burden of proof for the application for retention is on the State, and it must establish that the defendant has a dangerous mental disorder or is mentally ill, by a preponderance of the evidence. Statutorily, the terms “dangerous mental disorder” and “mentally ill” have different meanings.

A “dangerous mental disorder” means (i)that a defendant currently suffers from a “mental illness” and (ii) that because of such condition he currently constitutes a physical danger to himself or others.

“Mentally ill” means that a defendant currently suffers from a mental illness for which care and treatment as a patient, in the in-patient services of a psychiatric center under the jurisdiction of the state office of mental health, is essential to such defendant’s welfare and that his judgment is so impaired that he is unable to understand the need for such care and treatment.

Since the defendant was previously adjudicated non-dangerous, the relevant statute in this case is CPL 330.20[1][d]. The Court must determine if the defendant is mentally ill. The New York State Court of Appeals has held that the term “mentally ill” has three distinguishing characteristics: (1) illness is of a kind that requires inpatient care and treatment, (2) care and treatment of the illness are essential to the defendant’s welfare, and (3) because of impaired judgment the defendant does not understand the need for such care and treatment.

During the course of the retention hearing, testimonies from two very competent and very compelling doctors and from the defendant and his wife were presented; together with medical reports, and independent examiner’s report.

Upon careful review, the Court finds that the People have demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that continued care and treatment are essential to the physical or psychological welfare of the defendant and that the defendant is unable to understand the need for such care and treatment. Therefore, the Court finds that the People have met their burden of proving that the defendant is mentally ill as that term is defined statutorily.

It is not unreasonable to conclude that the defendant does need care and treatment, in that he suffers from a major depressive disorder, with psychotic features, currently in remission.
To note, the State’s doctor contends that the defendant’s disorder is in remission due to his current regimen of medications. Two other doctors appear to agree that the defendant’s medications are important to his mental health; that without his medications, the defendant would no longer be in remission.

Furthermore, the evidence demonstrates that the defendant has a significant history of mental illness, dating back many years. Although the defendant himself downplays his suffering, explaining that he never heard voices, just whispers, and that he had benign feelings of low self-worth which caused him to only need to talk to someone professionally who could help him, the truth of the matter is, and defendant would benefit by realizing this, that he does indeed suffer from mental illness, and has for some time. The defendant has had prior suicidal thoughts, has had a prior psychiatric hospitalization, and has had prior feelings of, among other things, paranoia, suspicion, agitation and depression. By receiving his essential treatment, the defendant will hopefully remain, as far as his mental illness is concerned, symptom free. Accordingly, the State has demonstrated this requirement justifying retention.
Although the Court finds that there could be no disagreement between the parties as to the need for the defendant’s continued care and treatment, there certainly is a great deal of disagreement between the parties as to whether or not that care requires the defendant to receive inpatient treatment at Creedmoor.

In resolving the aforesaid issue, the Court finds upon review of the evidence that the defendant is using illicit substances. Courts have held that such fact is relevant to the issue of retention. The evidence suggests that substance use while on the medications taken by the defendant interferes with the medications’ effectiveness. And if the medications are no longer effective, the defendant therefore would no longer be stable.

If the defendant cannot be trusted to refrain from using illegal substances which interfere with the medications sustaining his mental health while living at Creedmoor, there is no assurance that he will refrain from their use when he is no longer closely supervised.

In addition, the defendant’s flagrant disregard for the rules of the hospital also troubles the Court. Clearly, despite what may be an ease of access, illegal substances are not permitted on Creedmoor’s grounds. Yet, the defendant is in possession of such substances contrary to the rules. Again, if the defendant is not following the rules of the hospital, why should the Court be assured that he will follow the rules once released? The Court notes the defense’s assertion that the infractions by the defendant, such as possession of coffee and cereal are not serious, and the Court should not give them much weight. However, if the defendant, while a resident of Creedmoor, believes that it is up to him to determine which rules to follow and which rules to ignore, the Court finds little assurance that the defendant will follow any rules upon release that will help to maintain his remission.

The Court would also note that it appears that the defendant seems to frequently have an excuse for his actions which get him into trouble. The State doctor testified about the importance of the defendant taking responsibility for his feelings, admitting his drug problem, admitting his mental illness. She explained that the defendant needs to do that so that he may understand his situation and the importance of his taking his medications without illicit substances. The Court finds the testimony to be sound and extremely compelling.

The final factor in determining if retention in this case is warranted is whether, because of impaired judgment, the defendant does not understand the need for care and treatment. The Court finds that to be the case, based on the totality of the circumstances. The defendant’s behavior as an in-patient resident of Creedmoor demonstrates a lack of insight into his mental illness. By denying that he even has a mental illness, which again, the defendant suffered from prior to the instant offense, and denying that he has substance abuse issues, the defendant has shown the Court that he does not know or understand that he needs treatment.

Furthermore, by using illegal drugs and alcohol, it is clear that the defendant does not understand the interaction these substances have with his medications and how they can reduce their effectiveness. Such understanding is important to the defendant’s safe release into the community, where illegal substances could be more easily obtained.

It must also be noted that this is not one of those cases where a defendant has been denied privileges for so long, is stagnant, and is unable to safely transition into the community, because he was never given the opportunity to try. Here, the defendant had an opportunity for level four privileges and he “blew it”. The defendant was at the threshold of release, was granted unescorted furloughs, and lost the privilege because of “dirty urine”. Then, there was the subsequent marijuana possession, a drug crime. These actions demonstrate impaired judgment on the part of the defendant regarding his illness, his treatment, and his ability to be safely released into the community.

Meanwhile, the wife claims that she, as well as her sister, were in fact sexually and physically abused by their father, and when the defendant, her husband, was arrested, out of fear for her father, she lied to the police and the doctors, and insisted that the abuse had not taken place. Thus, the doctors, as well as others in the criminal justice system, concluded that the defendant was delusional. The wife now asks the Court to believe that that is not true, that her husband is not, and was not, delusional.

The wife’s testimony has created a unique aspect to the hearing. It raises questions as to the initial validity of the defendant’s “not responsible” plea, and to the doctors’ claims that the defendant’s beliefs, regarding his wife and sister-in-law having sex with their father, are delusions.

The Court finds that in analyzing this situation, it must not lose focus on the true issue at hand, namely, is the defendant presently mentally ill and in need of retention?

Initially, the Court finds that none of the parties, including the defendant himself, are requesting that the Court vacate the defendant’s not responsible plea. They are prepared to stand by that plea. Based upon those representations, as well as upon the presumption of regularity, the Court is not prepared, sua sponte, to vacate the defendant’s plea. The Court does not find enough solid evidence to find that the defendant committed a fraud upon the court when he entered his plea. Moreover, the defendant’s sister-in-law was not even called as a witness.
However, the Court strongly recommends that all of the parties, including the District Attorney, the hospital, and the defense team, fully investigate the aforesaid matter and convince themselves that a fraud was indeed not committed on the court when the defendant entered his plea. The officers of the court, the attorneys representing each party must honor their professional responsibility to protect the fairness and integrity of the judicial process.

Accordingly, the court rules that defendant is mentally ill and is in need of retention; he is not yet ready for conditional release; however, the retention order is to be for a period of one year only.

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