A defendant undergoing evaluation and treatment at the Hawai‘i State Hospital appeared via video conference Wednesday in 5th Circuit Court.
The case sheds light on the system where it works best. It also reveals the tragedy that occurs when court resources seem inadequate to restore someone and the questions become about balancing medical fitness with criminal responsibility.
A first-degree terrorist threat occurred several months ago. A knife was shown to someone with the demand for money.
The defendant was homeless at the time of the arrest and admits to drug use in his youth. He admits to alcoholism and continued drug use up until the arrest.
The court services attempt to help abusers when addiction appears to be the motive for a crime. The idea of probation and drug court is preferable to jail time, with treatment, counseling, community service and guidance to restore an offender to their families and community.
The individuals who fail drug screenings during probation are given penalties. When they can’t clean up their act they can lose their probation and wind up serving a prison term.
In this case, the accused is no stranger to the criminal justice system.
A string of misdemeanors from charges related to homelessness include alcohol, tobacco and drug addiction and a perpetual unemployable status.
His days were spent walking around to various locations, hoping to find some source of support for the day to eat, or money to buy some cigarettes or alcohol.
To feed an addiction this homeless person once found the odd job, but more recently just bummed money off strangers in Lihu‘e. After years of lacking any stability the line between asking and begging blurred and the tone changed to taking or demanding.
A defiant defendant told the judge several months ago to just do what she had to do, as he was not going to admit or sign anything. In court on Wednesday, the tone was much friendlier, even polite.
The attending psychiatrist and social worker spoke with the judge from the hospital. They noted that an initial difficulty with taking medications had passed by using injections and that the defendant was now cooperative and responsive.
The success of stabilizing the defendant prompted the prosecution to request a fitness for trial motion. The first and second evaluations took place before the defendant went through treatment.
The defense wanted an evaluation to determine danger to self and others. The judge said there cannot be another order until all the information from the attending physicians is available to assist in direction.
A mental health treatment specialist present in court spoke to the special needs of the defendant. The best chance to “recycle” the individual would begin with long-term therapy at an in-patient facility.
The process would continue with a progression of out-patient treatment at supervised group homes. Court reviews and motions to grant less restrictive environments would follow if the offender continued success through substance-free living.
The prosecutor intends to request for a stipulated fact trial, where the judge can rule on the set of facts agreed to with the defense. The outcome could be a jail term or an indefinite security stay a state mental health facility.
The path now is brighter than when the defendant entered the system. There is light at the end of a tunnel for someone who was at rock bottom — albeit a relatively bright outcome when compared with someone who takes the steps to end an addition or deal with a mental illness before it gets to this stage.
The miracle is that no one was hurt. The tragedy is that the defendant felt so helpless, unable to find a way to care for himself, and so disenfranchised from his community.
Addictions play a part in that alienation, and perhaps it was past failures at treatment or recovery that closed many doors and opportunities until it took a court order to open them. The doctors noted that requests to enter one facility had already been denied.
It’s easy to say the help is there if you want it, and it’s just as easy to bury someone in the system.