Thursday, December 2, 2004
In an opinion issued yesterday, the Louisiana Supreme Court handed a victory to the Tulane Law Clinic and to mentally ill criminal defendants throughout Louisiana. Relying on positions briefed and argued by student lawyers, under the direction of CrimProf Pamela R. Metzger, the Louisiana Supreme Court struck down La.C.Cr.P. 648(B)(2), a statute that applies to criminal defendants who (a) are permanently incompetent to stand trial; and, (b) do not pose a danger to themselves or others. The challenged law placed those defendants on probation for a period of a time that could extend up to the maximum punishment that could have been imposed on a competent defendant who was found guilty of the underlying crime.
The Tulane Criminal Clinic has represented the defendant, Ms. Denson, since her initial arrest. She was quickly adjudged permanently incompent to stand trial, and not dangerous either to herself or others. Nevertheless, Ms. Denson spent three years on probation and approximately two years in the general population of a women's prison, because there was no room for her in an appropriate psychiatric facility. The opinion can be found here.
The next step for Ms. Denson and her student lawyers
illustrates the intradisciplinary nature of the work performed in
Tulane's legal clinics, work that builds off of the theoretical work of
many fine CrimProf scholars. Students in Tulane's Legislation Clinic
are drafting a proposal for legislation that would meet the needs of
people like Ms. Denson. And, the Tulane Civil Clinic is evaluating the
viability of a lawsuit challenging the State's practice of using jails
to house mentally ill people when the State Forensic Hospital is full. [Mark Godsey]