PA Judges May Drop Charges of ‘Incompetent’ Defendants Spotlight PA

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HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has amended a decades-old flaw in state law that imprisons people with severe mental illness indefinitely, highlighting lingering problems for the man at the center of the case and others like him. I made it

Court’s September ruling Commonwealth v. Jquan Humphrey It paved the way for judges to dismiss charges against defendants who were never considered eligible to participate in their own trials. This has long been a point of confusion in state law.

Humphrey has been in prison in Pennsylvania since he shot and seriously injured two people in 2009 when he was 16.

About five years after his sentence, he allegedly threw a bag of urine at a security guard at Center County State Penitentiary. Two months later, he allegedly spat on another security guard.

Center County prosecutors filed charges, but in 2019, Center County Court Judge Brian Marshall found that Humphrey had serious long-standing mental health issues. He ruled Humphrey ineligible to stand trial and dropped his charges in February 2022.

Pennsylvania’s Mental Health Proceedings Act of 1976 protects those who may be “incapable” of being brought to justice from participating in legal proceedings they do not understand.

Courts will have to decide whether treatment will restore these people’s capacity to resume litigation.

But the law, which legislators passed nearly 50 years ago and has not been significantly updated, leaves vague what to do when someone is not, and for a variety of reasons, is not competent. giving instructions. Lack of clarity poses special problems for people with cognitive conditions such as intellectual disability, brain damage, or dementia.

Taken together, these problems with the law effectively confined people with severe and incurable mental conditions to prison, waiting endlessly for a trial they could never attend.

When asked to settle the matter in 1988, the state superior court at the time decided that it would be “pointless” to reopen the case against a person who had “little chance of being brought to trial.” It said the text of the law compelled them to do so.

In the Humphrey case, Center County prosecutors appealed the judge’s decision to drop the charges. The court reinstated the charges, citing a 1988 case. Humphrey’s attorneys appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

A new Supreme Court decision reversed the 1988 Superior Court decision. An earlier interpretation of the statute recognized “unjustified consequences” and “presumes that Congress intended such consequences,” Chief Justice Max Baer wrote in the court’s majority opinion.

“We respectfully disagree,” he wrote.

Justices Kevin Dougherty and Justices Sally Updike Mundy dissented.

The opinion is that the Philadelphia Bar Association, which provides people with free defense, authorizes trial courts to shorten cases when it is clear that the defendant will never be able to participate in his own defense. Bradley Bridge said. People who can’t afford to talk.

“What we hoped was that a trial court judge, who had probably been observing the client for years, would be able to approve the charges, taking into account the length of time involved and the reasons why continuing the charges would be unjustified. The company filed an Amicus brief in the Humphrey case.

The state Supreme Court has remanded Humphrey’s case to lower court for further resolution.

But the September ruling remains a significant stumbling block for those already in state prisons, deteriorating mentally in prison and facing new charges. The number of people in such situations is unknown as we do not track these cases.

Torrance State Hospital and Norristown State Hospital, both operated by the Department of Human Services, are the only state facilities that offer rehabilitation care, but they don’t accept people already serving time in state prisons.

The Mental Health Treatment Act authorizes the ministry to admit patients involuntarily to state hospitals, including those charged with crimes, but the law already provides procedures for individuals serving prison sentences. No, DHS spokesman Brandon Kwarina said in an email. .

“This act does not offer a process of unwilling commitment to the mental health of people like him. [Humphrey]was convicted of the crime and sentenced to imprisonment or imprisonment,” Kwarina wrote.

In his majority opinion, Baer repeatedly pointed out the lack of treatment options available to Humphrey.

“Changes to state hospital admission laws and regulations would require legislative action or regulatory amendments,” said Cwalina.

Fix: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Bradley Bridges’ employer. He works for the Defenders Association in Philadelphia.

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