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Local

Law requires psychiatric evaluations to be shared in trials

A new law, hailed as a landmark criminal justice reform, now requires the disclosure of forensic psychiatric reviews of defendants, so a judge can see the facts behind an opinion as to whether a defendant is mentally fit to stand trial.

It promotes transparency and fairness in the process of determining an offender’s fitness to stand trial, said Matt Jones, associate director of the office of the Illinois State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor. 

The Springfield-based organization serves prosecutors. The initiative was established through its best practices committee.

“We are the leader in something good that improves the criminal justice system,” Jones said. “There is no statute in the country that does what we are doing.”

If each side’s experts do not agree, but the judge cannot see the basis of their opinion, justice and transparency are not served, he said.

“One says he’s fit; the other one says he’s not fit. We have a contrary opinion – so, ‘Here’s my videotape, and here is why I think that he is not fit, based on this videotape,’ ” Jones said. “A judge is going to give weight to more background.”

The law also requires the disclosure of notes and other evaluations.

Jones said in the case of the 2012 theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, defense experts said the accused James Holmes was unfit to stand trial, but they did not want to turn over their forensic interviews with him.

The judge in that case ordered them to turn it over because they were relying on that as the basis for their opinion, Jones said.

“In Illinois, it would have been presumptively turned over,” Jones said. “As a result of this law, it will be automatic. There will be no court hearing for it; they just have to turn it over.”

The reform, which was enacted late last month, was inspired by a series of articles in the “National Law Journal” and the “Chicago Daily Law Bulletin,” and is expected to serve as a national model for best practices in the field. 

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