Mentally ill women should have attorney, 7th Circuit rules

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a mentally ill woman who filed a federal lawsuit challenging her conviction and sentence for murder should have had a lawyer appointed to her and remanded the case to District Court.

Anastazia Schmid was convicted in state court of murdering her boyfriend in 2001. During the trial she testified she heard a voice telling her she is the Messiah. She said the voice told her the boyfriend needed to die because he sexually abused her daughter. She was sentenced to 55 years in prison, the last five suspended to probation.

She sought collateral review in state court and had a lawyer appointed to her. When those proceedings were finished, she filed in federal court, but the District Court ruled her filing was 15 months too late. Schmid, who filed pro se, argued equitable tolling should have applied because the previous lawyer on the case was slow in getting needed papers to her, and because of her mental problems. The District Court denied her filing as untimely as Schmid did not identify the particular documents she needed or why she needed them.

The 7th Circuit ruled that the District Court should have appointed counsel to Schmid. “Counsel could have investigated Schmid’s mental condition and explored the contents of prior counsel’s files, formulating an explanation for delay satisfactory to the district judge. We remand this case with directions to appoint counsel and, if appropriate, hold an evidentiary hearing,” Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote for the panel.

The case is Anastazia Schmid v. Steven McCauley, superintendent, Indiana Women’s Prison, 14-2974.

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