Fall 2001, pg. 246. Lessons from JD's Case.

Maine Bar Journal


Fall 2001, pg. 246.

Lessons from JD's Case

Maine Bar JournalFall 2001Lessons from JD's CaseWhere do we stand with mentally ill juveniles?JESSIE B. GUNTHERState v. J.D. [BAN-JV-00-296]

J.D., who had just turned twelve, came before the Bangor District Court on November 8, 2000, for a detention hearing.(Fn1) Over the course of the preceding day he had apparently stolen a lighter from a teacher's desk and set four fires: three at school and one at his counselor's office. According to his psychiatrist, who joined us at court, he was actively psychotic on both occasions, and remained psychotic on November 8. Due to the efforts of the psychiatrist, J.D. was involuntarily committed some hours later under the provisions of 34-B MRSA §3863. J.D's case set off a train of thought which has carried me through the range of court interactions with mentally ill juveniles.

This commentary addresses the application of 15 MRSA 3318 (competence and beyond), the insanity defense in juvenile cases, voluntary and involuntary commitment, and therapeutic commitment to the Department of Human Services.

Competence and beyond

J.D.'s case reflected the procedure set out in 15 MRSA §3318: If it appears that a juvenile is a mentally ill person as defined in Title 34-B §3801(5), or an incapacitated person as defined in 34-B §5001(2)(Fn2), the court shall suspend the proceedings and shall either (A) initiate proceedings for voluntary or involuntary commitments, or (B) order that the juvenile be examined by a physician or psychotherapist and refer the juvenile to a suitable facility or program for the purpose of examination.(Fn3)

Neither part of this procedure is easy. We were able to accomplish (A) only because the psychiatrist took the initiative to come to court and then negotiated the maze to find a hospital which would accept the child. He was a determined advocate and left no stone unturned. Had he been absent, we would have struck roadblocks ranging from the petty (access to paperwork-courts do not store "blue papers"; does the statute intend that the judge sign the application?) to the essential (most psychiatric facilities which accept juveniles are always full).

As the doctor was tracking down a hospital, the legal staff were working on alternative (1)(B). As unwelcoming as the local hospitals were, the reaction of the correctional facilities was even more negative. Northern Maine Juvenile Detention Facility advised me, through the juvenile community corrections officer, that their facility was not suitable, but that the Maine Youth Center had a unit which would serve. I spoke personally with the superintendent there, who did not share that opinion.(Fn4) The two facilities were still fighting that out when the doctor located a placement.

Section 3318, with its linkage to voluntary and involuntary hospitalization provisions, does not parallel the provisions related to adults. The adult statute, 15 MRSA 101-B, lists factors of competency, criminal responsibility, and abnormal mental condition, which tie in with 17-A MRSA §§ 38, 39, and 40. Other conditions to be assessed relate to issues in the case.(Fn5) Permissive examination is "for cause shown."

Further assessment depends on the initial assessment or a prolonged plea of not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.

The juvenile provision is facially broader-If it appears that a juvenile may be mentally ill..." [emphasis added]. "Mentally ill person" is defined in 34-B MRSA §3801(5)6 as "a person having a psychiatric or other disease which substantially impairs his mental health, including persons suffering from the use of drugs, narcotics, hallucinogens or intoxicants, including alcohol, but not including mentally retarded or sociopathic persons."

"If it appears" and "may be" suggest a lower standard than "for...

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