Monday, October 24, 2005

Digging a Little Deeper

A few weeks ago, I was appointed to represent a young man who had been charged with robbery. In addition to the main count, the state had alleged in the indictment that my client had targeted the victim based on his race. My client was black. The complainant was Hispanic. My client allegedly approached the victim and said, "Wetback, give me your money." When the individual didn't respond, my client allegedly slapped him in the face and ran away.

When I first spoke to my client, I suspected that he was mentally retarded. We recently started a mental health unit in our office to assist with mentally ill and mentally retarded clients. I tried referring my client's case to that division, but their docket was full. Even though they couldn't take the case, one of our new caseworkers volunteered to speak with him on his next court date to provide some assistance to me. After she spoke with him, she suggested that I have him evaluated for competency. I had not thought this was necessary originally because he seemed to be able discuss the facts of his case with me, and seemed to have a basic understanding of how the legal system worked. But, based on the caseworker's recommendation, I requested that he be evaluated. The expert appointed to do the evaluation, along with the caseworker, were able to discover that, in addition to being mentally retarded, my client had also been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was a teenager. After reviewing his records, and speaking with family members, we learned that his paranoid delusions often revolved around Hispanics and that he frequently believed they were "out to get him." This, of course, put the facts of his case in a whole new light.

Last week, when his case was set, I presented the prosecutor with the information in the competency evaluation (as I suspected, my client was competent), including his diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia and his documented paranoid delusions about Hispanics. With the new information, the prosecutor offered to reduce the charge from a second degree felony of robbery to a state jail felony of theft from a person. He got probation, and the judge waived any fine and all probationary fees. I can't imagine that I would have gotten that kind of result if I hadn't had the thorough research on his mental retardation and mental health history. Sometimes, you have to dig a little deeper.


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