Subject: Re: Questions:Criminal Act & Mental Illness
Date: 1997/09/02

I think they are being very practical about it, especially given the limited resources. It is very very old law that in order for a person to be held criminally responsible for an act they must be able to understand the nature of their act. That doesn't mean they must understand that it is criminal "against the law" but their understanding of the act they are committing must bear some semblance of the actual act. For some mental patients they cannot do this. A very old example of this was a man who stangeld his wife believing he was squeeezing a cantelope. The decision about what kind of control to take over such people is often related to a decision about the degree of risk to the community as against the costs to the community. Obviously the melon guy needs to be securly locked up. Your guy needs better watching to be sure, but what kind of expenses should go into it may be debateable.

In any case your immediate problem was resolved - the guy was taken away. And you have been given the opportunity to follow up and find out whether further criminal action is practicable.

Dave & Ina Blecher  wrote:
:     Is it true that a person who is deemed (by a peace officer) to have
: "mental problems" can't be charged with a criminal act because of an
: inability to be commiting the act "willfully?"

It depends upon the criminal act. If the criminal act has a "willful" component then it is true. That doesn't mean NOTHING can be done, just that nothing CRIMINAL can be done.

:     Is it up to the peace officer to decide that? Is it up to the peace
: officer to tell the citizen that there is "nothing to file a complaint
: about?"

The peace officer may offer practical advice based on experience but the citizen is always free to persue the matter with the District Attorney.

:    Some background: We live in a rural area in CA. Last night, I checked
: why one of our dogs was barking. When I turned on the light, I noticed a
: man, butt naked, doing semi-jumping jacks (and some other jestering)
: right outside the fence on our property. I called the sheriff and they
: arrested the man. I was told that he was given into the custody of his
: "care-takers," that he had mental problems, and lived in our
: neighborhood. When I asked about my filing a complaint, I received the
: above answer.

:     I told the officer that, of course, the guy has mental problems. So
: what? I don't want him running around my house. There are kids living in
: this neighborhood. I feel very uncomfortable now at night. Also, at
: times this kinf of behavior may escalate into other, more
: serious,behavior.

:     When I asked about the nature of this man's mental problems, the
: officer said he couldn't disclose that because the man has a right to
: privacy. ;:) ???

:    When I checked the CA Penal & Civil Codes I found nothing about
: mental dysfunctions being an excuse or negating the term "willfully," or
: about peace officers making that judgement upon a complaint of a
: citizen.

There is a whole lot more to the law that the statute books. And there are a lot more laws than the Penal Code and the Civil Code. Mental conditions fall under the Health and Safety Code - somewhere in the neighborhood of 5150. Be sure that you are looking at an "annotated" code book which will show how the law was interpreted for that particular code section.

:    Another officer called me back and said he would forward the file to
: the DA.
Sounds fair enough. Follow up on it.

:    So, is "indecent exposure" now merely a book written by Howard Stern?

"Indecent exposure" very often involves more than just nakedness. It often involves the purpose of drawing attention to oneself in a sexual or "indecent" manner. If you can't form that purpose (mentally) it may be possible that you can be naked and not commit the crime. Children are often excused for exactly that reason.

:    What are my rights? What happened to my privacy, right to enjoy my
: home? If you have any ideas, please share them. I feel slimed twice.
: Thanks! Ina Blecher
It sounds like you will have the opportunity to work with the DA - follow up on it. Find out what kind of guardianship the guy is under and see if you can secure better supervision.

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