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Judges find ruling denied mentally ill man's due process rights

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed today the denial of a mentally ill man’s motion to dismiss charges against him because not dismissing the charges was a violation of his due process rights.

Alva Curtis, 58, has cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder. He has little education and is unable to do many basic household chores, according to court documents. He also suffers from dementia, which is getting worse.

He was living with a friend when Curtis allegedly yelled at his neighbor as the neighbor walked by. Authorities also alleged Curtis followed the man into the neighbor’s home, hit him with a wooden chair, and damaged property. Curtis was charged with residential entry, battery, and criminal mischief. He was released from jail nearly a month after the incident and ended up in a long-term, locked facility before being moved to a rehabilitation and nursing facility.

Two doctors conducted psychiatric examinations of Curtis and determined he was unable to understand the proceedings against him, assist his attorney, and would likely never be restored to competency. 

The trial court denied his motion to dismiss and refused to commit Curtis to the Indiana Department of Mental Health and Addictions based on the cost to the state. On interlocutory appeal, the appellate court overturned the denial in Alva Curtis v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0911-CR-1106.

The judges relied on State v. Davis, 898 N.E.2d 281, 285 (Ind. 2008), in finding Curtis’ due process rights had been violated. They rejected the state’s argument that Davis is distinguishable because Davis had been committed by the state and confined for longer than the maximum period of time that she could have served in prison.

The appellate court didn’t fault the trial court for not committing Curtis in order to save money, but that rationale doesn’t support the decision to deny dismissing the charging information. Although part of the Davis holding was premised on the defendant’s confinement, the appellate court also explained the mere act of holding criminal charges indefinitely over the head of someone who won’t ever be able to prove his innocence is a violation of due process rights, wrote Chief Judge John Baker.

The judges also quoted and joined Court of Appeals Judge Paul Mathias’ concerns written in a separate opinion in Habibzadah v. State, 904 N.E.2d 367, 369 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), in which the judge observed the inadequacy of our current criminal justice procedures with regard to mentally ill defendants.
 

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