Here are a few Lawpsyc news stories that developed over the weekend:
It looks like a 38-year-old convicted sex offender, currently charged with 20+ new sex crimes against children, is going to go free in Utah based on two psychological findings. First, he’s supposedly incompetent to stand trial because he lacks the cognitive capacity to understand the charges against him, to understand the criminal process at even a rudimentary level, to appreciate the potential consequences if he’s convicted, and therefore, to assist in his own defense. Now, when someone’s found incompetent to stand trial, he/she’s routinely sent to a psychiatric hospital to attempt to restore his/her competency through therapy, medication, etc. The threshold for competency to stand trial is actually quite low, so in most cases, the person’s competent to begin with, and if it’s determined that he/she’s not, there’s actually a good chance he/she will be at some future time. There are some people though, due to mental retardation, head injuries, etc., who will never acquire or regain their competency, so in such cases, institutionalizing them for the express purpose of restoring competency would amount to imposing life sentences (in hospitals instead of prisons) on people who haven’t been convicted of crimes. That’s supposedly the category that this guy falls into, and he apparently has reached the maximum length of time during which he can be hospitalized involuntarily for the purpose of competency-restoration. Here’s the kicker, though. If someone’s so insane or so cognitively-deficient that he/she’s incompetent to stand trial, yet he/she has shown a propensity to behave in ways that constitute serious crimes, then the person clearly poses a danger to the community, particularly because the threat of arrest/prosecution is likely to do little to deter the person from future dangerous behavior. The law then has a procedure for someone like that. It’s called civil commitment. When a person is a danger to him/herself and/or to others, that person can be involuntarily hospitalized by a judge, with regular judicial reviews of the person’s progress or lack thereof, until such time, if any, that he/she’s deemed no longer to pose a danger, i.e. indefinitely. That’s right where I suspect this guy should be. But therein lies the rub, the second psychological finding that I mentioned. An “expert” apparently has opined that this guy no longer poses a danger to himself, nor to others. Therefore, the judge in the case, under Utah law, can’t hold him any longer to ostensibly restore his competency to stand trial, nor does the judge have grounds to commit him civilly as a danger to himself or others. So, he’s on his way out…onto the streets of Utah, and then…who knows where. Now, I haven’t examined him, but unless this guy suffered a head injury during his competency-restoration hospital stay such that he’ll be in a coma for the rest of his life, which didn’t happen, I don’t see how any expert could possibly be comfortable having him running around loose (except maybe an “expert” with an agenda wherein sex crimes against children aren’t considered that big a deal and/or we’re all supposed to pretend like dangerously-mentally-ill people are fully-functional Americans so they can have better self-esteem). This guy’s not only charged currently with 20+ sex offenses against children, of which there’s likely to be at least some evidence (like, for example, one child victim reportedly said he threatened her that if she told her parents, her father would kill him and then go to prison, so the little girl would never see the father again, which, if true, indicates a psychopathic pedophile who’s cognitively competent both to stand trial and to be found guilty, as hell) — I know, he hasn’t been convicted of those offenses — but he also has been convicted and done prison time before (and as usual, we have to ask how we ever decided it’d be a good idea to let him out so he could try it again)! I think this judge needs to get another set of expert eyes on this guy immediately. I’d be happy to answer the judge’s call. Apparently, the judge and I are on the same page about the need for a second opinion, but the judge doesn’t seem to be turning pages nearly fast enough in the story — as of now, the judge has ordered another psychological assessment, but unbelievably, it’s not set to begin until…October. This case calls for a second opinion to be formed yesterday, while we still know where the guy is!
Now, remember those bodies that have been turning up on that Long Island, NY beach? We heard this weekend that local authorities not only believe they have a serial killer on their hands, but also that they have reason to believe the killer may be someone with law-enforcement training. They’re not saying specifically why they think that, but it usually means a perpetrator has destroyed or concealed evidence in a way that indicates inside knowledge of police investigative procedures. Investigators also reportedly think that the women were in fact killed elsewhere and their bodies then were dumped on this remote beach. There’s talk also of developing a “profile” of the killer, but as you know if you read or watch me regularly, there’s generally not a lot more science to back that up than there is to back up the use of a psychic to assist in catching a killer. Yes, the killer’s almost certainly a man, but other than that, these guys are a more diverse group than many people think, making it tougher to identify and apprehend them. Looking at a specific behavioral calling card, like the concealment of evidence so as to thwart standard police crime-scene operating procedures, has more predictive validity than stats-based deductions like, for example, the killer has an above-average I.Q. (some do, but not all), the killer is socially-adept when it helps him to be so (some are, but not all), and the killer is a “loner” (some are, but not all). Remember, the “BTK” killer here in Kansas was a city employee, church elder, husband, and father over the course of a decades-long killing spree. Stay tuned.
Just days after one in Brazil, there was another shooting rampage overseas, this one in a shopping center in the Netherlands, killing at least five (plus the shooter, whom I never count), and wounding at least 11 more. Other than noting that it’s tragic and making my usual pronouncement that when we go back and take a good hard look at the shooter’s history, there will have been plenty of warning signs (and yes, it’s sad that I have a “usual” for events like this), there’s not much else to say about this one at this point except that this incident and last week’s incident in Brazil add to the evidence against the idea that this is somehow a uniquely-American problem. Unfortunately, the tendency to give demonstrably-dangerous people second, third, and fourth chances to hurt others is a tendency that has pervaded other civilized societies around the world.
And finally, a Brooklyn, NY woman reportedly showed up for jury duty last week, and in filling out a pre-selection questionnaire, wrote that “African-Americans, Hispanics, and Haitians” were the three groups of people whom she least admires. The judge apparently saw this as an attempt to get dismissed from the jury pool by blatantly claiming to harbor prejudice against certain races of potential defendants. So, the judge dismissed the woman from the jury pool but then ordered her to return to the court and repeat the whole exercise daily until further notice! Now, was the woman trying to get out of jury duty? Probably. But if you were a member of one of her three least-admired races and were charged with a crime, would you want her on your jury, even if she’s truly not a racist and is just in a desperate hurry to get to a verdict? I don’t think so. And does a judge have the authority to order a citizen to show up for jury duty every day because he disbelieves that she’s a racist? No, because if she’s truly a racist, then she at least did the right thing by admitting it so she wouldn’t end up judging someone toward whom she’s prejudiced. If she’s not truly a racist, then she’s of course a terrible example of citizenship, but either way, she probably will end up with a lifetime excuse from jury service.