Maurice Clemmons Wanted to Plead Insanity—Even After Western State Found Him "Competent"


Maybe the eagerness to prosecute those who commit especially heinous crimes is leading to an unreasonably high standard for "mentally incompetent" evaluations. The tough-on-crime rhetoric we've been hearing for decades seems to regard the "insanity plea" as a liberal loophole.

We appear to have discovered a downside.
Well, of course he claimed he was insane. Isn't that a time-honored method of avoiding serious jail time?

I mean, I'm not saying that everybody who claims insanity is lying just to get an assumedly easier sentence (a hospital instead of a prison). But surely it happens. That's why we have actual psychiatrists make that determination, not the defendant (or his lawyer, obviously)

Are you saying that just because he claimed he was insane we should have had him committed? I hope not, 'cause that's stupid.
Insanity ≠ competency. One must be competent to be adjudged not guilty by reason of insanity (or guilty or not guilty generally). One must be competent to be tried. Insanity is at the time of the crime and is a defense to the crime. Competency is not a defense but it could result in dismissal without prejudice which means the case can be refiled when a defendant regains competency. If a court has doubts as to competency then commitment for a competency evaluation at a state hospital follows. If, following a commitment for competency, the court determines defendant is competent, then the case proceeds to trial. If the court finds defendant is incompetent, then defendant is re-commited for competency restoration proceedings. Insanity can only be raised as a defense by the defendant.
@ 2 - When someone says, "I'm mentally ill and have done some weird shit in the past, please lock me up before I do something really bad", it sure as hell doesn't seem stupid to confine him.
@4 I am reading that legalese as saying "I WAS mentally ill in the past, when I did bad shit. Don't lock me up, because (implicitly) I no longer am."
Algernon @3 is correct in explaining the basic differences between competency and insanity/diminished capacity.
@2 This sounds to me like it may have been a "cry for help" over a ploy to get lesser jail time. My brother, a paranoid schizophrenic, has checked himself into mental health facilities numerous times only to check himself out within a day or two (since it's voluntary, they can't hold him). With all of his appointments with social workers and doctors and his involuntary stay at a county hospital (for destruction of private property), a survival instinct kicks in for him and he says/does exactly what he needs to in order to avoid being held against his will any longer than he has to. Once he gets a feel for what life in an institution is like, he can't get out fast enough.

I'm thinking that might be the case with Clemmons as well. He initially pushes for an insanity plea, but the perhaps overly-harsh state guidelines in conjunction with his own desire to not be institutionalized leads to a declaration of competency, despite any indicators otherwise.

For me, my brother's condition should place him in an institution or group home of some sort, but since he doesn't pose a threat to himself* or others, he could ultimately just check himself out. To me, based on everything I've read about Clemmons (and Isaiah Kalebu, for that matter), he should have been institutionalized as well.

* Another bit of fucked-upness, the state defines a threat to onesself as a legit suicide attempt. My brother has scars ALL OVER his arms, but since the cuts themselves are mostly superficial (to me, the scarring indicates otherwise), he can't be held against his will. I live in constant fear of the day that he snaps and hurts one or both of my parents, who are stuck living with him. Stories like this drive that fear home a bit more.
@5 Exactly. Of course he was claiming insanity. It was his ticket to a much nicer mental facility and then freedom once he convinced them he was no longer nuts.

Really, how but actually having a bit of an understanding of the justice system, the notion of competency and not guilty by reason of insanity before you spout off nonsense.
Again, competency only speaks to the defendent's ability to understand the nature of the charges and his ability to assist. The initial court order is almost always for a 15 day evaluation meaning that is the longest they can keep him for evaluation at WSH. After that, the defendent is often held in custody until they can be transported back to the hospital for at least two more weeks if a misdemeanor, or 90 for a felony charge. In order for a plea to be entered the defendent has to be judged competent to make ANY plea, including dim cap or NGRI.

Criminal insanity is a legal term. It specifically regards a plea of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity, an acquittal based on inability to judge right from wrong. If NGRI, he would go to WSH instead of prison. Also, if he was intoxicated at the time of the offense or has mental health problems secondary to drug use, he may be ineligible for the plea. Criminal insanity is not neccesarily related to mental health problems, and a mentally ill person can be both competent and legally sane.
Dude, it's two different standards. The question of the defendant invoking the insanity defense has to do with: was I so insane when I did the deed that you can't convict me (but you can still lock me up)? The question of whether he is/not mentally competent to stand trial has to do with whether he's so whacked out that he is unable to assist in his own defense or understand the charges against him during the trial.
Ah, I had forgotten there was a difference between insanity and competency, and at the time of my posting #3 hadn't posted yet. Also, I just spent the entire weekend around my family and had to vent some frustrations anyway. If my prior comment is too off-topic to keep, the mods can feel free to delete it.
#7: Totally get what you're saying. I'm just of the opinion that, while you can argue with the conclusion of the psychiatrists in this case, and you can even argue with the guidelines those psychiatrists follow in general with regard to the definition of "competence," the defendant himself (or herself) shouldn't be allowed to deem themselves mentally unfit to stand trial.

Determining a "cry for help," versus "a cry to stay out of prison" is tricky business.
Hang on a sec -- are you lawyerly types trying to suggest that (a) the issue is complicated and (b) a lot of smart people have already been thinking about these issues for years and therefore (c) you're ahead of all of us blog commenters that have as our only qualification our steadfast police-scanner-listening?

Well, I never.
He wasn't seeking treatment. He was trying to avoid criminal culpability. There's a difference.

This instantaneous desire to start blaming people for this horrendous crime is as predictable as it is frustrating. It's Huckabee's fault. No wait, it's the justice system's fault. Etc.

A crazed lunatic murdered 4 innocent victims in cold blood. We all like to think that such horrible crimes can't actually happen at random like this unless someone slipped up. In other words, there are checks and balances and nets and protections, and this doesn't happen, does it? But it does happen. The desire to find blame is born of a desire to feel safe. But it's an illusion built by our sub-concious. Life is cruel and brutish and short and bad shit happens every day. It's not always someone's fault. If you want someone to blame, look to the fugitive currently trying to avoid capture.
"I think the safest thing to take away from all of this is that Clemmons was, at the very least, claiming repeated recent lapses into criminal instability after a long history of trouble with the law—and yet ended up back out on the street."

Just another note here. In my experience in forensic mental health, another thing to rule out when looking at "lapses into criminal instability" is drug use. I've seen people sent through the court system (and Western State Hospital) who did not have a mental disorder outside of their drug use. I've also seen people who were able to maintain stability, though mentally ill, but got triggered by a drug relapse. Usual culprit for some of the most violent (and psychotic) behavior was methamphetamine. I can't even count how many times someone was sent in to WSH by the courts for competency or competency restoration when the primary issue was methamphetamine induced psychosis. Not schizophrenia. Not bipolar disorder. Just methamphetamine abuse that triggered psychotic symptoms. Also, meth (and other stimulants) exacerbate mental health symptoms, so even if a person might have been stable for awhile, a drug relapse can kick-start a mental health relapse.

Also, different judges will order different things to be evaluated by the psychologist. From what I understand, they do evaluate as much as they can for dim cap and insanity at the time of the offense, but in reality, if that is going to be pursued, those cases take more than a 15 day evaluation to clarify. I don't think I came across a single case that took less than two years from the first hearing to the end of the trial. These initial evaluations are the best that can be done during those 15 days. In my experience, you were damned lucky to get any records from other mental health agencies/hospitals in less than 30 days, even with constant badgering.
I think that this guy should be locked up in a mental hospital and then go to prision because he still did it and him saying he is insane for me is a bad reason.