Amanda Bynes, Mental Illness, and Washington’s Jail Wait Times, Part II
- November 4, 2014
- No comments
My last post on the issue of competency to stand trial in the context of criminal defense discussed two topics.
First, Amanda Bynes’ recent commitment to a treatment facility. And, second, indigent defendants waiting in jail for months longer than the law allows for competency-restoration therapy in Washington.
Since that post, a couple of things have happened that deserve updates. Yes, Amanda was released from treatment. Any open criminal cases will probably require that she maintain contact with her attorney and follow any recommended mental health treatment. Additionally, and more surprising, Pierce County judges have begun to hold the Washington State in contempt.
To review: competency is a threshold determination whether the defendant is able to understand the charges against him or her and assist in his or her defense at trial. In
Washington, RCW 10.77 governs if defense counsel or the court suspects incompetency.
RCW 10.77 requires responsible State agencies to initiate competency evaluations and restoration services for individuals detained in jails within seven days by transporting he or she to one of two psychiatric hospitals. However, in 2012, the average wait time for admission to appropriate facilities was forty-one days.
Attorneys have tried to hold the Department of Health and Social Services in contempt for violating the law, with mixed results. However, judges in Pierce and King county are now granting these motions and holding the State in contempt. Reasoning that the wait time is a violation of the right to speedy trial, right to due process, and the 8th Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and usual punishment, the State will have to pay as much as $500 a day to the jails holding these individuals.
Obviously, contempt and sanctions do not fix the problem: the agencies that provide these services need more room and more funding to solve the unpopular issue of the mental health of indigent Washingtonians. Or, the entire system of laws governing the issue needs to be reworked. Regardless, its not a simple fix.