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United States v. Silas

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

October 24, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
HANNAH SILAS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          CHARLES S. COODY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         On October 19, 2017, the United States filed a motion for mental competency examination (doc. # 249) of defendant Silas. The court held a hearing on October 23, 2017, at which the defendant joined in the motion. The defendant is also before the court on a motion to revoke her pretrial release based on her continued drug use and inability to follow the instructions of her probation officer. (Doc. # 231). The court is confronted with a defendant who appears to have a mental illness and drug addiction that significantly contribute to underlying conduct for which she faces criminal charges as well as her ability to conform her conduct to the instructions of the court and the United States Probation Officer.

         Given the current psychiatric understanding that drug addition is a disease, albeit a mental one, the court believes that a defendant who suffers from a drug addiction should be properly treated as having a mental disease or illness, particularly in a case where there is evidence of an additional underlying mental illness. Where there is a reasonable basis to believe that a defendant's drug addiction contributed to the conduct involved in the pending charges as well as the petition to revoke pretrial release, the court concludes that ordering a mental health evaluation, especially where one has not been done previously, is appropriate and necessary. Such an evaluation is necessary to aid the court by helping to determine (1) how the defendant's substance-abuse disorder may affect her culpability for the offense conduct; and (2) what type of treatment, if any, the defendant should receive while on pretrial release.

         The mental-health recommendation should focus on the dual, overlapping issues of culpability and treatment: the role, if any, of the defendant's mental illness and drug addiction played in her charged conduct, and what treatment is recommended for her in light of her individual characteristics and history. Of course, where there has already been unsuccessful treatment, the recommendation should include what to do in the fact of these efforts, such as whether any special treatment or social supports would be beneficial.

         For these reasons, and based on the additional factors discussed below, the court will order defendant Silas committed to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for a mental health evaluation pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4241 and 4242.

         It appears that Silas has a serious substance abuse disorder. She began using narcotic drugs at the age of 20, and has continued using illicit drugs for seven years. When she was arrested on the pending charges, she was under the influence of drugs. Her behavior was sufficiently erratic that the court could not, at that time, proceed with an initial appearance or arraignment. In her pre-bail report, Silas reported to the probation officer that she used marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and prescription drugs. She also reported “hearing voices” and “seeing things.” She reported cutting the coaxial cable at her house because she believed people were watching her. Silas informed the probation officer that she had received mental health treatment at Cross Bridge Behavioral Health. After her release with conditions, on September 22, 2017, Silas failed to report to her probation officer for drug testing. On September 26, 2017, she tested positive for methamphetamine. She subsequently admitted using methamphetamine. On October 2, 2017, Silas' father reported that he found her passed out in the bathroom surrounded with what appeared to be drugs. It was also reported to Silas' probation officer that she was seen in a room with narcotic drugs including methamphetamine and heroin.

         The court desires a comprehensive assessment of Silas for two purposes. First, the court desires an assessment of the role that addiction or other mental health issues, if any, played in the commission of the violations Silas is presently charged with in the petition to revoke her pretrial release. Such an assessment is necessary to evaluate her culpability for those violations and fashion appropriate conditions of release, if any. Second, the court seeks recommendations as to the type of treatment, if any, Silas should receive if her pretrial release is continued. The evaluation should include (1) an assessment of whether she suffers from the disease of drug addiction; (2) if so, the causes and circumstances of that addiction (including whether there are other related or underlying mental disorders or mental conditions); (3) what role, if any, the drug addition or other mental disorder may have played in the conduct charged; and (4) the recommended course of treatment or treatments.

         Because it appears to the court that there is reasonable cause to believe that HANNAH SILAS at the time of the commission of the offense charged in the indictment as well in the petition to revoke her pretrial release may have been mentally incompetent and/or may presently be suffering from a mental disease or defect, including drug addiction, rendering her mentally incompetent to the extent that she is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against her or to assist properly in her defense, it is

         ORDERED that the motion for mental competency examination (doc. # 249) be and is hereby GRANTED and the United States Marshal for this district immediately remove the defendant to the custody of the warden of an appropriate institution as may be designated by the Attorney General where she is to be committed for the purpose of being observed, examined and treated for a period not to exceed 45 days by one or more qualified psychiatrists or psychologists at the institution, pursuant to the provisions of 18 U.S.C. §§ 4241(a) and 4247(b), (c). The 45 day period shall be counted from the day of the defendant's arrival at the designated institution. It is further

         ORDERED that pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4247(c) the examining psychiatrist or psychologist conducting the mental examination of the defendant report in writing to this court within 60 days from the date of the defendant's arrival at the institution as to their findings, opinions and conclusions relative to the competency or incompetency of the defendant and specifically report to and advise this court whether or not in their opinion the defendant may be presently insane or otherwise so mentally incompetent as to be unable to understand the proceedings against her or properly assist in her own defense and further specifically report their findings, opinions and conclusions as to whether the defendant, at the time of the commission of the offense with which she is charged or at the time a statement was given to law enforcement officials, was insane or mentally incompetent.

         To assist the court in assessing the defendant's culpability, the study shall also discuss defendant Silas' mental-health history and characteristics, and shall particularly address (i) whether she suffers from a substance-abuse disorder or other mental disorder or disability and if so, which one(s); (ii) what role, if any, her substance-abuse disorder or other mental disorder or disability played in the commission of the violations of pretrial release and the underlying criminal offense; and (iii) how her substance-abuse disorder or other mental disorder or disability impacts her ability to refrain from using illegal substances. In addition to assessing whether the defendant has a substance-abuse disorder or other mental disorder or disability, the study shall provide recommendations for treatment to be provided to Silas while on pretrial release. It is further

         ORDERED that the defendant shall be incarcerated and remain at the institution designated by the Attorney General until further order of the court.

         Finally, it is

         ORDERED that the hearing on the petition to revoke Silas' pretrial release be ...


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