Share this article

print logo

GARRASI CASE SHOWS NEED TO TIGHTEN STATE LAW

I read with sadness but no particular surprise the Aug. 16 article regarding the failure of the criminal-justice and mental-health systems to deal more effectively with mentally ill persons like Mr. Salvatore Garrasi III. Having been adjudicated "not responsible" for a violent crime by reason of mental disease or defect, they are eventually returned to society only to engage in acts of violence.

Your article correctly points out that the system's "breakdown (lies in its) inability to bring (such persons) in immediately (to court) if they violate the conditions of their release."

Under the Criminal Procedure Law, the court can only recommit a defendant upon proof offered at a hearing that the defendant currently suffers from a dangerous mental disorder, presenting a danger to himself or others.

This usually presupposes that the defendant has already engaged in threatening or violent behavior.

The problem arises with patients released under orders of conditions who have not necessarily engaged in any recent violent outbursts, but who are slowly but surely unravelling due to their failure to follow their court-ordered treatment plans or take necessary medication. They may appear to be harmless but, in reality, are often like volcanoes waiting to erupt.

When a defendant violates an order of conditions, (for example, by not taking prescribed medication), the commissioner of mental health's office is required to notify the court and the district attorney's office. However, absent indications that the defendant is suffering from a dangerous mental disorder, the Criminal Procedure Law does not give the district attorney authority to seek recommitment of the defendant or compel his appearance in court.

That is unfortunate and the Garrasi case underscores the point.

What I propose is that the Criminal Procedure Law be amended to require that defendants who do not comply with their orders of conditions be promptly ordered into court for a hearing to determine their current mental state and whether they have violated the conditions of their release.

If the defendant is found to be mentally ill (and, by definition, unable to appreciate the need for psychiatric care and treatment), as well as in violation of the conditions, he should be recommitted to a psychiatric facility on an involuntary basis until he demonstrates to the court's satisfaction at a future hearing that he is able and willing to comply with the court's orders.

If the defendant is found not to be mentally ill but in violation of the order of conditions, he should be subject to sanctions that include incarceration.

As it stands, the law with respect to violations of orders of conditions by mentally ill (but not obviously violent) defendants is a toothless tiger.

Perhaps by changing it, we can achieve a better balance between the safety and welfare of the community and the rights of due process and the treatment needs of the mentally ill.

Thomas P. Franczyk City Court Judge
Buffalo

There are no comments - be the first to comment