Bill to commit criminal defendants deemed incompetent vetoed

Gary Grado//May 20, 2016//

Bill to commit criminal defendants deemed incompetent vetoed

Gary Grado//May 20, 2016//

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Deputy Pima County Attorney Kathleen Mayer finally, after seven years of trying, got a bill passed to stop a revolving door for dangerous criminal defendants.

Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed it May 18.

The legislation, SB1510, would have allowed the state to commit a dangerous criminal defendant who has been set free on the basis of being found mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Ducey said in his veto letter the proposal risked the licenses of the staff at the Arizona State Hospital and the hospital’s credentials, which came as a surprise to Mayer.

“This is the first I ever heard there were licensing and accreditation concerns with any of the language of the bill,” Mayer said.

Mayer said she will be meeting with the governor’s staff in the next few weeks to work out the problems.

Ducey said in his veto letter he wants to find a solution and he mentioned that the fiscal-year 2017 budget includes a provision for establishing a study committee made up of behavioral health and justice system experts.

“The provisions of this bill as well as other ideas will be considered and vetted by that group,” Ducey wrote.

Mayer, the Pima County Attorney Office’s legislative liaison, said there are dangerous people who have been set free under laws pertaining to incompetency.

A person is determined to be incompetent to stand trial if he cannot understand the proceedings against him or help in his defense, which violates due process guarantees.

That triggers a treatment process to restore the person to competency, which lasts between six and 21 months while the person is still in jail.

If that fails, a judge can dismiss the case and release the defendant, refer the defendant for involuntary commitment, or refer for guardianship.

Mayer said what typically happens is hospitals and treatment centers aren’t equipped to hold a person committed involuntarily for longer than 10 days and the person is released on an outpatient basis.

Detective Rusty Stuart, who testified for the bill on behalf of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, said incompetency proceedings are effectively a “get-out-of-jail-free card.”

SB1510 would have required prosecutors to inform hospitals that the person was recently involved in criminal proceedings, and hospitals would be required to inform the court if the person wasn’t complying with treatment or was released.

The court then could issue “pickup orders” to get the person back into treatment and prosecutors could alert victims the person is free, Mayer said.