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Justices: Man with Alzheimer’s must be committed per statute

February 19, 2014

Noting the trial court had the best of intentions when it did not order a man with Alzheimer’s disease committed, the Indiana Supreme Court pointed out the trial court had to order his commitment under Indiana Code 35-36-3-1(b) after he was found not competent to stand trial.

William Coats faces a charge of Class D felony sexual battery against his granddaughter. He was born in 1943 and has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He was evaluated by a psychiatrist and psychologist who found he was not competent to stand trial. The two also opined there was little likelihood he would be able to be restored to competency.

After the trial court found Coats incompetent to stand trial, the state filed a written request to commit him to the Division of Mental Health and Addiction pursuant to I.C. 35-36-3-1(b). Coats filed a motion to dismiss the charge, arguing since he cannot be restored to competency, commitment would violate his due process and equal protection rights. The trial court denied both motions; the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of the commitment, with Judge Patricia Riley dissenting.

Justice Steven David pointed out in State of Indiana v. William Coats, 49S02-1305-CR-328, that the language of I.C. 35-36-3-1-3, -3, and -4 is unambiguous. There are steps that must be followed in determining a defendant’s competency to stand trial. The statute does not give trial court discretion to refuse to commit a defendant once it determines that he or she is not competent to stand trial, David wrote.

The justices also rejected Coats’ claim that Jackson v. Indiana, 406 U.S. 715 (1972), State v. Davis, 898 N.E.2d 281 (Ind. 2008), and Curtis v. State, 948 N.E.2d 1143 (Ind. 2011), support his argument that he should have the charge against him dismissed.

“In all likelihood, the trial court here was motivated by the probability that Coats, at the time nearly seventy years old and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, is unlikely to ever be competent to stand trial,” David wrote. “Although the trial court had the best of intentions, it was bound to follow Ind. Code chapter 35-36-3 and had no discretion to substitute its determination as to whether Coats would eventually attain competency for that of the superintendent of the state institution where he should have been committed. Only by following the strict statutory framework set forth by the legislature in Ind. Code chapter 35-36-3 can both the interests of the State and Coats be protected.”
 

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