Sullivan & Cromwell, partnering with the ACLU Foundations of Northern and Southern California, has obtained a ruling giving important due process rights to people with psychiatric and intellectual disabilities who are detained in California county jails.
The California Court of Appeal ruled on June 15 that the state’s prolonged detention of people who have been declared incompetent to stand trial due to psychiatric or intellectual disability violates their right to due process. This has profound implications for the thousands of people who languish in county jails every year because they cannot stand trial or pursue their defense without adequate treatment for their disabilities.
According to recent data, approximately 4,000 people per year are incarcerated in California county jails, declared incompetent to stand trial, and placed on a waitlist for admission to state treatment facilities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the waitlist for admission soared to more than 1,600 people—a five-fold increase since 2013.
The case, Stiavetti v. Clendenin, was filed in 2015 against California’s Department of State Hospitals and Department of Developmental Services. It was brought on behalf of family members of individuals who had endured prolonged incarceration in California county jails despite having been declared incompetent to stand trial.
In the first statewide order of its kind in California, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith ruled in 2019 that the state of California had systematically failed to provide due process to incompetent defendants and must admit them for treatment within 28 days of receiving the relevant documents from the court. The state appealed.
The Court of Appeal upheld Judge Smith’s ruling and urged the state to take meaningful new action to stop the unconstitutional delays in providing mental health treatment to people deemed incompetent to stand trial.
Palo Alto litigation partner Laura Kabler Oswell led the effort for S&C, working with Michael Risher of the ACLU of Northern California. The American Lawyer recognized the pair as runners-up for its Litigator of the Week award for this effort.
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