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Committed woman's charge must be dismissed

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Faced with a question the U. S. Supreme Court declined to address more than 35 years ago, the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed a trial court's decision to dismiss a criminal charge against a committed woman who may never be able to stand trial because of incompetence.

In State of Indiana v. Charlene Davis, No. 49S02-0812-CR-657, Charlene Davis was arrested and charged with criminal recklessness after she entered a bank with a knife demanding money from an account that had been closed. She was evaluated for competency and the two court-appointed psychiatrists found she wasn't competent to stand trial. As a result, the trial court ordered Davis committed to the Division of Mental Health and Addiction in an appropriate psychiatric institution. She stayed in institutions in Evansville and Indianapolis for more than three years. The hospitals found a high probability Davis may never become competent to help her legal counsel for trial.

In March 2007, Davis' counsel filed a motion to dismiss the charges, arguing her hospitalization was like incarceration and she had already accrued more days than the maximum possible confinement she could receive if convicted. The trial court granted the motion; the Court of Appeals reversed.

The Indiana Supreme Court looked to Jackson v. Indiana, 406 U.S. 715 (1972), which ruled when there is no substantial probability a defendant will ever be restored to competency, he or she must be released or the state must institute civil commitment proceedings to commit the person indefinitely. But the nation's highest court declined to address the issue presented in the instant case: whether or not to dismiss the charges against Jackson. Now, four decades later, that is the issue Indiana's Supreme Court must decide.

Indiana has no relevant precedent on the question of whether there is an inherent denial of due process in holding pending criminal charges indefinitely over the head of someone who won't be able to prove his or her innocence, wrote Justice Robert Rucker.

In Indiana, a person may be committed civilly if the state thinks it is necessary to protect the public and the mentally ill person and requires a finding the person is dangerous or gravely disabled. Justification of committing someone accused of a crime is to restore him or her to competency to stand trial. But in this case, competency isn't possible, the justice wrote. At this point, even if Davis were to become competent and convicted, she would be immune from further commitment because of the credit she would receive while being committed in the hospitals.

"In essence even though a civilly committed patient can be released if she is no longer dangerous or gravely disabled, the statute says nothing about whether the patient is eligible for release where the original commitment order was based on incompetency to stand trial," he wrote.

In this case, the state doesn't make a claim as to why it would be important to have Davis stand trial now even though she couldn't be sentenced to prison, nor is there any substantial public interest to be served by determining her guilt or innocence. As a result, it's a violation of basic notions of fundamental fairness as embodied in the 14th Amendment to hold criminal charges over the head of Davis, the Supreme Court ruled.

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  1. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  2. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  3. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  4. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  5. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

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