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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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  1. 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.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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