A question of ‘care and custody’

LIHUE — A Hawaii state hospital on Oahu denied hospitalization of a Kauai man despite a Fifth Circuit Court order requesting the man be committed for a mental health evaluation for at least 30 days.

After several attempts, doctors who had conducted a three-panel examination said they could not determine whether Chinh Nguyen was fit to proceed to trial. Proceedings had been suspended to allow him to be evaluated by mental health professionals.

Only one doctor came back with a report stating Nguyen was unfit to proceed to trial. The other two doctors could not make a determination.

“Usually what happens if the client commits an offense and doctors cannot determine whether he is unfit or unfit, then the client cannot go to trial,” said Ronette Kawakami, associate dean for Student Services at the UH William S. Richardson School of Law. “Because the client cannot understand what’s going on.”

Nguyen is charged with third-degree promoting a dangerous drug, second-degree drug prohibited acts related to drug paraphernalia and a misdemeanor firearm charge. Nguyen picked up the charges after attempting to register a gun at the Kauai Police Department.

On Monday, Fifth Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Watanabe, with the help of a Vietnamese interpreter translating for him, gave Nguyen two options: be committed to the Hawaii State Hospital immediately for further evaluation, including another three-panel examination, or go back into the community to work with an agency on fitness.

Nguyen chose the former. He gave his keys to his stand-by counsel, Shauna Cahill.

But on Tuesday, an emergency court proceeding was called to understand why HSH had not received Nguyen, despite a court order.

After a lengthy discussion with the state, the court amended an order filed Monday citing a need for necessity to transport Nguyen “to the care and custody of the director of the Department of Health forthwith.”

Dr. Keith Claypoole, with the Department of Health, said the state is not allowed to keep defendants who have been found unfit to proceed or who have been acquitted of charges for reason of mental disease incarcerated for more than 72 hours.

Deputy Attorney General Debbie Tanakaya, on behalf of HSH, said Tuesday that one week would give the hospital ample time to prepare for the incoming patient.

Nguyen’s standby-counsel argued the state could not ignore a court order that requested her client to be transported to HSH.

“When Nguyen made his decision to commit himself to the state hospital, he was under the understanding that he would be transported immediately,” Cahill said. “He was not informed that he would have to sit in jail for a week because of the arbitrary HSH policy.”

Tanakaya said the hospital had not blocked the entry of Mr. Nguyen.

She said for Nguyen to be committed to the hospital, a finding of necessity by the court needed to be ordered.

Watanabe told Tanakaya that Nguyen had already been examined by a panel and had on Monday ordered an additional examination to be conducted at the hospital.

She reminded Tanakaya that in the future, if there was any question about the court’s order, she would appreciate open dialogue with the court “without inconveniencing all parties, the sheriffs, court personnel and most importantly, the defendant.”

Janice Okubo, spokeswoman for the HDOH, said no patient who has been ordered by the court to HSH has been denied entry to the hospital.

“We follow all court orders,” Okubo said. “Patients ordered by the court to the hospital for evaluation for fitness to stand trial are routinely processed within a week for admission.”

Nguyen was transported Tuesday to HSH on Oahu and is ordered back to the Fifth Circuit Court by way of video conference on Sept. 13.


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