Developments in Mental Health Law

Articles from Vol. 25, No. 2, July

Amnesia and the Determination of Competency to Stand Trial
I. Introduction The relationship between amnesia and competence to stand trial ("CST") is often summed up in a single blunt phrase: amnesia for the time of the crime does not, by itself, preclude a finding of competence. (1) Although some scholars...
Andrea Yates Found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity after Retrial
At roughly the same time that the United States Supreme Court was issuing its ruling in Clark v. Arizona, 126 S. Ct. 2709 (2006), that states can limit the scope of their insanity defense, a Texas jury returned a verdict that Andrea Yates was not guilty...
Applying Sell V. United States, Virginia Federal Court Judges Order Treatment over Objection of Criminal Defendants Found Incompetent to Stand Trial
A steady stream of judicial rulings continues to be issued that addresses the parameters of the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003), that under limited circumstances the government may treat over objection...
Arresting Homeless Individuals for Sleeping, Sitting, or Lying on Public Property When Other Shelter Is Not Available Violates the Constitution
Cities have long struggled with how to deal with their homeless populations, particularly in light of reports that a high percentage of them are experiencing a mental illness. In what has been described as the first case involving the rights of homeless...
Court-Appointed Mental Health Evaluator Owes a Limited Duty of Care to the Person Being Examined
A health care provider typically owes a duty of care to an individual with whom a professional relationship has been established, including a duty to exercise reasonable care in diagnosing and treating the individual. Mental health professionals, however,...
Defendants Found Incompetent to Be Sentenced Also Entitled to Sell's Protections from Treatment over Objection; Ruling Not Disturbed
The United States Supreme Court, in Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003), held that governmental officials, under limited circumstances, can obtain a court order to administer over objection antipsychotic drugs to restore the competence of defendants...
Detroit Police Department Agrees to Videotape Interrogations of Murder Suspects Following Settlement of Lawsuit Focused on False Confession Obtained from a Suspect with Mental Illness
The Detroit Police Department, under pressure from a pair of consent decrees with the Department of Justice and pursuant to the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the family of a man with mental illness who spent seventeen years in prison after confessing...
Fourth Circuit Adopts Narrow Test for Determining Incompetence to Be Executed
Sitting en banc, the Fourth Circuit in a seven-to-six ruling held that the test for determining whether a criminal defendant is competent to be executed is limited to whether the condemned inmate is able to comprehend that he or she is sentenced to...
Hospital and Physician Liable under EMTALA for Transferring Suicidal and Intoxicated Patient to Jail for Protective Custody
A recently completed national survey of hospitals found that 55% of all hospital admissions (excluding pregnancy and childbirth) in 2003 entered the hospital through the hospital's emergency department, a total of 16 million patients. The fifth most-often...
Indiana Supreme Court Rules That Defendants Can Not Be Required to Show Their Mental Retardation by Clear and Convincing Evidence in Death Penalty Cases, and Evidence Can Include Tests and Manifestations That Occurred after the Age of 21
In Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), the United States Supreme Court ruled that a death penalty cannot be assigned to criminal defendants who are mentally retarded, but did not define mental retardation nor establish the procedures to be used...
Lawsuit Can Continue That Alleges Inadequate Mental Health Care Contributed to Suicide of Inmate in Virginia Maximum Security Prison
The United States Supreme Court, in Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976), established that the Eighth Amendment is violated when prison officials are deliberately indifferent to an inmate's serious illness or injury. This ruling has been widely interpreted...
Mental Health Provider Engaged in an "Inappropriate and Extraprofessional Relationship" with a Client Can Not Be Sued for Alienating the Client's Affections for a Spouse
When a mental health provider has become sexually involved with a client, the client may have a claim for malpractice. If this relationship results in discord between the client and the client's spouse, including divorce, the spouse may assert a similar...
Mental Illness Can Serve as a Basis for Discharging Student Loans
Under federal bankruptcy law, an individual can be excused from repaying student loans if the debt "will impose an undue hardship on the debtor." Ordinarily, the focus is on whether repaying the debt will not prevent a minimal standard of living after...
Monetary Damages Can Be Recovered from a State under the ADA When Disability Discrimination Also Violates the Constitution
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) places limits on the ability of public entities, including states, to exclude or deny benefits to an individual with a mental or physical disability. Although Title II authorizes private...
Parent May Be Denied Access to Child's Mental Health Records during Divorce and Custody Proceedings
Children may be receiving mental health services while their parents are in the process of becoming divorced. During a custody dispute, a parent may seek to gain access to a child's mental health records in an effort to establish through the discussions...
Police Officer Must Have Probable Cause to Handcuff Man Reported to Be Suicidal; Ruling Not Disturbed
When a dispatcher relays to a police officer a call for assistance, the information provided may include a "mental health code" designed to alert the responding officer that mental illness may play a role in the encounter. In a case from Ohio, two...
Prison Sentence Imposed on Parents Who Hosted Teen Beer Party Is Upheld
Underage drinking has been recognized as a significant public health concern. For example, the annual social cost of underage drinking in the United States has been estimated at $53 billion, including $19 billion from traffic crashes and $29 billion...
Proposed Pediatric Psychiatric Day Treatment Facility Owned by Three Psychiatrists Does Not Violate Federal Law
Under federal law, the ability of a health care provider to refer a Medicare or Medicaid patient to a facility with which the provider has a financial relationship is limited. Such "self-referrals" had become quite common in the United States in the...
Psychiatric Hospital Not Liable for the Death of a Patient Following a Struggle with Hospital Staff
The Michigan Court of Appeals refused to impose liability on a psychiatric hospital for the death of a patient who had been admitted to its care. The man had been transported by the police to the psychiatric facility, where he was found to be in need...
Reforming (Purportedly)no-Punitive Responses to Sexual Offending
I. Introduction Clovis Claxton, who was developmentally disabled and wheelchair-bound after contracting meningitis and encephalitis as a child, was twenty-four years old and living with his family in Washington state in 1991 when he exposed himself...
School Officials Can Be Held Liable for Failing to Protect Special Education Students from Bullying
Bullying in schools is increasingly recognized as a significant problem, with students enrolled in special education programs particularly vulnerable to this bullying. The United States District Court of Connecticut ruled that when school officials...
Security Company Can Be Held Liable for Patient's Attack on Physician, but Public Entity That Designed or Maintained the Conditions within the Facility Can Not
Although incidents of violence are relatively infrequent in facilities that provide housing to individuals with mental illness, protecting the safety of residents and staff is a continuing concern. After a physician was killed by a patient who had...
Sex Offenders Can Be Prohibited from Living within 2,000 Feet of a School or Registered Child Care Facility; Ruling Not Disturbed
Every state has adopted legislation that imposes registration and community notification on certain sex offenders, and there is now an Internet-based (www.nsopr.gov) national repository that collects and makes available to the public the names and...
Supreme Court Upholds Arizona's Ability to (1) Limit the Scope of the Insanity Defense and (2) Preclude the Use of Mental Health Expert Testimony in Conjunction with a Mens Rea Determination
In its recently completed term that began October 3, 2005, and ended June 29, 2006, the United States Supreme Court decided sixty-nine cases with a signed opinion. After an unprecedented eleven years without a change in its membership, these opinions...
Supreme Court Upholds Authority of Police to Enter Home without Warrant to Protect Occupant Objectively Believed to Be Seriously Injured or Imminently Threatened with Such Injury
In a unanimous ruling of potential relevance to individuals involved in an altercation or a heated dispute in their home or while visiting another individual in that person's home, the United States Supreme Court ruled that police may enter a home...
U.S. Attorney General's Effort to Block Oregon's Assisted Suicide Law through Physician Registration Requirements Struck Down as Exceeding His Authority
Physician-assisted suicide was authorized in Oregon in 1994 following a state-wide voter referendum, and reaffirmed following a second referendum in 1997. The Oregon Death with Dignity Act permits an individual who has been diagnosed with a terminal...
Virginia Governor Orders Six-Month Delay of Execution to Determine Whether Inmate Competent to Be Executed
A little more than an hour before the scheduled execution of Percy Levar Walton, Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine delayed execution for at least six months until December 8, 2006, to enable an independent evaluation to be conducted on Walton's mental...
Without Evidence of Specific Acts Demonstrating Actual or Likely Serious Bodily Injury, Discontinuation of Prescribed Medications Can Not Serve as Basis for Involuntary Hospitalization
The New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed an order to involuntarily hospitalize a woman with a history of mental illness who had discontinued her prescribed medications. In 1999, a judge had ordered the woman involuntarily hospitalized after she overdosed...