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Indiana courts grappling with requirement to use psychiatrists in insanity evaluations

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Although members of the Indiana Legislature’s Commission on Courts appeared to be skeptical of a proposal to revise the statute concerning insanity evaluations, their concerns may be trumped by the need to be pragmatic.

Currently, courts in Indiana are required to appoint at least one psychiatrist to the team evaluating criminal defendants who enter a plea of insanity. However, judges say they are having trouble finding psychiatrists who are both qualified and willing to do the evaluations.

Courts in Evansville and Fort Wayne only have one psychiatrist in each community that they can call upon for help. Fitting the evaluation into one the doctor’s schedules can be difficult. If the lone psychiatrist in the area is too busy or has a conflict of interest, then these courts must look (and pay an added expense) for psychiatrists in other counties.

All the while, the accused usually wait in jail.

“It’s a nightmare,” said Beverly Corn, public defender for Vanderburgh County. “We’re talking months before an evaluation. We’re not talking days or a few weeks. We’re talking months.”

As a way to address long delays, the Indiana Psychological Association has proposed that the General Assembly eliminate the requirement for a psychiatrist from the statute. Doing so would give courts more flexibility by allowing them to appoint a team of only psychologists and help alleviate the problems caused by too few psychiatrists.

The association presented its idea during the Sept. 24 hearing of the Commission on Courts.

Already, Indiana’s statute provides courts with the option of also including a psychologist or physician in the evaluation. Psychologists receive an extensive amount of academic as well as clinical training and are well-qualified to assess the mental health of defendants, the association told the commission members.

However, Dr. George Parker, a certified forensic psychiatrist and associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Indiana University School of Medicine, argued against making the statutory change. He maintained that because of their medical school training, psychiatrists are “uniquely qualified” to assess any medication issues and physical conditions of the defendants being evaluated.

The members of the commission seemed to agree.

Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Dickson pointed to the growing use of medications and drugs and questioned if psychologists have enough knowledge of pharmacology. Likewise Rep. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, bluntly stated he did not think a psychologist had the necessary training in chemicals or brain functions to be a “worthy substitute” for a psychiatrist.

Psychiatrist shortage

The commission’s discussion did not offer any alternative solutions for the shortage that is presently plaguing the state courts.

Indiana is not alone in grappling with the problem of finding psychiatrists. Across the country the number of these specialists is decreasing as medical school graduates choose the more lucrative practices in order to pay their school loans.
 

pigman-robert.jpg Pigman

As a long-term remedy, Vanderburgh Superior Court Judge Robert Pigman is unsure what the courts could do. In Evansville, the judiciary has reached out to every medical practitioner and has spoken to the local medical association trying to recruit more psychiatrists to do evaluations.

Although insanity pleas are very rare – totaling maybe 10 out of the roughly 33,000 felony cases handled each year in Vanderburgh County – when they are filed the court has only one psychiatrist available. And if that doctor cannot do the assessment, then the court has to tap the psychiatrist 55 miles up the road in Knox County.

The situation can become more complicated if members of the evaluating team submit contrary findings. Then the court has to schedule time during the jury trial for the experts to appear. With psychiatrists as well as psychologists having full calendars, Pigman said the court may have to deviate from the requirement that testimony be given after the close of evidence.

Pigman would like to see the Legislature remove the mandate for psychiatrists. This could ease some of the stress, he said, while still giving courts the option of appointing a psychiatrist if deemed necessary.

North in Allen County, the situation is much the same. Only one local psychiatrist is willing to evaluate defendants for the court and when that individual is not available, the county has to rely on a psychiatrist in Indianapolis.

Given the time it takes for the court to find a psychiatrist and appoint an evaluating team, coupled with the difficulty of scheduling the assessment and allowing time for the professionals to submit their reports, Fort Wayne attorney Michelle Kraus said the process is moving well if the report comes back 90 days after filing the petition.

Kraus asserted courts should not be bound by a requirement for a psychiatrist or have to pay attention to titles. Rather, the court should be allowed to enlist the help of the best qualified experts and appoint the professional it deems most qualified.

Competency

Two years ago, the General Assembly relaxed the rules on competency evaluations, removing the requirement that a psychiatrist be appointed there as well. The result, many say, has been good.

Even Parker said he has not noticed a significant impact on his practice since the change in the law. Yet, speaking after the commission hearing, he emphasized competency evaluations have a safety net in that the individual deemed not competent will be sent to a psychiatric hospital for observation and treatment.

“It’s not the same for insanity evaluations,” he said. “Once the jury or judge decides that somebody was or was not insane, it’s done, except for appeal. So it’s a higher stakes evaluation, the insanity evaluation.”

Fort Wayne forensic psychologist Stephen Ross said the psychiatrists are using the same arguments now that they made against changing the competency statute.

Most insanity evaluations do not need someone with extensive medical training, he said. Psychologists have the skills to do the retrospective analysis that is required in insanity evaluations.

When Ross evaluates a defendant, he reviews all the available records from physicians, schools and the Department of Correction. He also talks to family members and others who are close to the individual. Then he will spend upwards of an entire day with the defendant, administrating a battery of tests and taking two to three hours to interview.

“The important thing is that you need to be thorough in the evaluation and make sure you look at all the data because you could be setting up for an appeal if the evaluation has defects,” he said.

Parker said he will try to determine if mental illness played a role by interviewing the defendant and looking at the pertinent records.

He conceded that cases where a physical condition has caused a change in a person’s mental state come along maybe once every two or three years. But they do occur, and the evaluation can mean the difference between the defendant being found not guilty by reason of mental defect or guilty but mentally ill.

Although Corn sees a statutory change as making the process more efficient, she maintained psychiatrists should still provide evaluations in capital cases. There, the medical training and understanding of biology would “add just a little bit more.”

When the punishment is the most severe, the attorneys and courts have a “moral and legal duty” to bring in every person necessary to educate and help the jury make a good decision, she said.

Second guessing

As for credentials and training, Pigman said he understood the argument in favor of psychiatrists who have the medical background while psychologists do not.

“That is a concern and I think that is a legitimate concern,” he said. “On the other hand, this is a real practical problem in the state.”

Pigman noted that he believes psychologists have more in-depth training in cognitive and behavioral studies than psychiatrists. Kraus concurred. In her experience, she said, the psychologists spend hours evaluating the defendant before issuing a report, while the psychiatrists have based their opinion only on the 40 minutes they spent talking to the individual.

Allen Circuit Court Judge Thomas Felts serves on the Commission on Courts and heard the testimony by both sides. He indicated he was undecided but he did understand the need to be pragmatic.

“I do note, just from the availability standpoint, that it seems more beneficial to have more qualified people be they psychologists or psychiatrists,” he said. “If this proposal would make that available number higher, I would generally be in favor of that unless I could find some reason not to.”

Sometimes, Corn said, because of the wait to be evaluated, people just give up. The defendant may have been in jail long enough to receive treatment so he or she becomes able to participate in the trial. These cases produce lingering questions that nag at the attorneys about whether or not they did a disservice.

“I think everybody walks away second guessing themselves,” Corn said.•

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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