Mental Impairment & Unfit to be Tried

Case

Mentally Unfit to Stand Trial in the Supreme Court of Victoria

Quick Facts

Our client was charged with the murder of his housemate. However, our client is deaf, mute and suffers from severe cognitive disabilities, which limits his ability to participate in the criminal trial.  We conducted a hearing determine whether he was able to stand a jury trial.

Maximum Sentencing

If our client was found fit to stand trial, he would be subjected to the normal penalties for murder if he was found guilty.

Life imprisonment is the maximum sentence for a Murder charge (Section 3 of the Crimes Act 1958)

What Our Client Received 

He was found to be mentally unfit to stand trial.

Case Background

Our client was a charged with murdering his housemate who died from catastrophic head injuries after falling from a balcony of a second-floor apartment. Our client had been diagnosed as profoundly deaf and had a documented Intellectual Disability with a very low level of intelligence, amongst other cogitative and psychological limitations. Our client did not have any criminal history.

Law

There is a presumption in law that everyone is fit to stand trial unless evidence is raised to prove otherwise.

This is a very difficult threshold to overcome as it has six different criteria which need to be satisfied for someone to be found unfit to stand trial, as outlined in section 6 of the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Unfitness to be Tried) Act 1997. It must be established that the person is or at some time during the trial will be:

  1. Unable to understand the nature of the charge or;
  2. Unable to enter a plea of charges and exercise right to challenge jurors or;
  3. Unable to understand the nature of the trial;
  4. Unable to follow the course of the trial or;
  5. Unable to understand the substantial effect of any evidence or;
  6. Unable to give instructions to his/her legal practitioner.

Findings

Our client was assessed by a Clinical Psychologist, a Forensic Psychologist and a Neuropsychologist, all of whom came to opposing conclusions regarding our client’s fitness to trial. Of particular significance noted from these assessments was the clients relatively low level of understanding regarding the legal situation he was facing, that being a charge of murder with a possible life-term imprisonment.

A number of tests were conducted by these experts to ascertain our client’s fitness for trial whereby our client demonstrated to be a very compliant interviewee, who would often adopt what he would perceive to be the demanded answer in a given situation when responding to questions. Therefore, it was of the view that our client would often be persuaded or induced to an answer when questioned in a certain way. Put simply his answers and actions could not be relied on because he did not have the appropriate mental capacity.

Results

During the Mental Impairment Hearing, the Auslan interpreters who were employed to translate proceedings for our client in court raised serious concerns and did not believe that our client understood the Auslan sign language well enough to follow court proceedings.

Therefore, in a dramatic turn of events, the Prosecution now shared our view that our client was, in fact, unfit to stand trial. The court then determined that our client was unlikely to become fit within the next 12 months, as his mental state would not likely change within the next 12 months.

Due to the finding that our client was unfit to stand trial, he did not have to be subjected to a criminal trial and therefore could not ever be found guilty of the murder charge.

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