IPAS appeals after district court denies motion seeking plan for faster competency restoration services

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A federal court has denied a motion that would have required Indiana to reduce the time criminal defendants who are found incompetent to stand trial wait to receive competency restoration services, ruling the jails’ treatment for the mentally ill is “minimally adequate.”

In May, the Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services Commission filed a complaint against the state over the treatment of mentally ill criminal defendants. It then filed motion for preliminary injunction, asking the court to order the state to quickly develop and implement a plan to provide competency restoration services.

However, on Monday, the U.S. District Court for the Southern Indiana District denied the motion in Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services Commission v. Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, et al., 1:22-cv-00906.

Friday, IPAS filed notice that it is appealing the ruling to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In its lawsuit, IPAS asserted the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction was not timely providing competency restoration services to defendants found incompetent to participate in the own defenses at their trials. Individuals were being “held in legal limbo” for long periods until a spot opened in one of the state’s competency restoration services.

IPAS claimed the wait times for services violated the 14th Amendment, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The motion for preliminary injunction asked the district court to order the defendants to quickly remedy the situation. In particular, IPAS wanted the court to order the state to file a plan within a month that would detail how the wait list would be reduced within 120 days so that criminal defendants in need of competency services would not be in limbo any longer than 28 days.

In addressing the merits of the case, the district court raised several questions it claimed neither party had answered.

Namely, the court wanted more information as to why the defendants wait in jail instead of being released until a placement opens. The court asked if, “after the state court’s competency hearing, does the commitment of the defendant to the state mental health agency effect a new detention, or is the commitment mere formal, such that only existing detentions are continued?”

Beyond that issue, the district court was not persuaded by the arguments that the wait times violate due process and substantive due process. However, the court did leave room to revisit the latter.

The district court countered the due process claim with the reality of the current situation.

“… (T)here are more defendants found in need of services than there are services available — some defendants must wait,” Judge James Sweeney wrote. “Again, there is some wait time that would be clearly too long, but IPAS has not shown that these wait times are.”

Under substantive due process, IPAS argued the jails are not providing “minimally adequate” mental health services to incompetent criminal defendants awaiting placement. In particular, the jails do not have “involuntary medication orders” and may isolate the mentally ill.

But the district court held the state is meeting the required standard.

“The Court thinks those deficiencies show jails’ mental health treatment is not optimal — the relevant standard, though, is not ‘optimal’ but ‘minimally adequate,’” Sweeney wrote. “And the very deficiencies argued by IPAS indicate that jails’ mental health treatment is minimally adequate: the argument that jails do not have involuntary medication orders suggests that jails do administer voluntary medications; the argument that jails isolate the mentally ill for their protection suggests that jails do take steps to prevent violence against those in their care.”

Sweeney noted the court would be open to revisiting the substantive due process question later with the “benefit of more briefing and a better-developed evidentiary record.”

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