In order to be tried on any criminal charge, the defendant must be able to understand the proceedings to the extent that he or she can participate in his or her own defense.
Our Birmingham sex crimes defense attorneys know that this threshold is basically the same from state to state, requiring that defendants can’t be tried if deemed to lack mental capacity or fitness. This is not always a simple standard to prove, and it requires a defense team that with skill and experience.
In one case out of Mobile, a judge has ordered a mentally disabled teenager to undergo something called “intense social skills training” in an effort to make him mentally competent to stand trial on charges of sexual assault and sodomy.
According to local news reports, the 19-year-old reportedly befriended a 9-year-old boy at a recreation center and later sexually assaulted him in a violent manner in a nearby wooded area. This was back in 2009.
The defendant was arrested soon after, but since that time, three different psychologists have determined that the he suffers a serious mental handicap. Rather than ruling that the defendant is incompetent to stand trial (which would give authorities the ability to then petition for him to be committed to a mental institution), the judge, curiously, has ordered him to undergo a program of “intense social skills training” in order to “make” him ready for trial.
If the treatment is found to be successful, the teen would then stand trial, where he could either be found guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity.
It’s unclear how this program would make him ready, considering his intelligence quotient has already been deemed far below what is considered average. This is not something that can be changed, no matter how much you attempt to educate or train someone. Nor should it apply retroactively to the defendant’s mental state at the time of the alleged crime.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, roughly 40 percent of individuals who suffer from severe mental illness or deficiency have been arrested at least once and nearly 10 percent of the prison population suffers a mental illness or deficiency. While those with intellectual disabilities comprise about 2 to 3 percent of the population, they represent 4 percent to 10 percent of the prison population, with an even larger number in juvenile facilities and jails.
It is especially important for family members of these individuals to be vigilant in seeking legal representation for them right away, particularly if they are charged with a sex crime. These are serious charges that could have lifelong consequences. But it’s unlikely someone with limited mental capacity would understand that, or have any grasp of what their rights are under the law. Often, individuals who are intellectually disabled allow themselves to be questioned and searched by police, not realizing that they don’t have to consent to such actions.
For this reason, too, they are often vulnerable to false allegations and false confessions.
If your loved one has been accused of a sexually-motivated offense, immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.