What happens when a defendant pleads insanity? - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

What happens when a defendant pleads insanity?

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 by Krystal Paco

Guam – "For many years now, there's been a shortage of psychiatrists on Guam. And so that means that the pool for forensic evaluators is very small," said Judiciary of Guam administrator of the courts Josh Tenorio. He said the shortage delayed the Chad DeSoto trial last year.

Desoto pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and claimed the Devil compelled him to drive down a crowded Tumon sidewalk, crash his car, dart out and stab people at random. As a result, three were killed. Eleven others injured.

"So it's become an issue you saw it last year when we had the DeSoto trial. We had to fly in a psychiatric expert with expertise in forensic evaluations to conduct the evaluation with DeSoto and also to be the expert witness when it came to trial," Tenorio continued.

Although the courts once had an in-house clinician who specialized in forensic evaluations, that individual has since retired. Without the budget to hire a new one and lack of interest locally, Tenorio is hoping to grow the pool for case-by-case contracting. "So this is a big priority for us. We're trying to identify some professionals on island who we can train to do it. It is a challenge, but for the bridge, we've been trying to utilize resources that we do have available," he said.

Most recently defendant Yu Hua Han pleaded not guilty by reason of mental illness. Han is the woman accused of punching a 10-month-old baby in the face on New Year's Day before running away. Following her insanity plea, the court ordered she undergo a forensic evaluation within ten days. That however couldn't happen as the courts are at the mercy of the forensic evaluator's schedule.

"In that case," said Tenorio, "there has been an on island psychiatrist with the experience in forensic evaluation to conduct it. But of course, that's always driven by the schedule of the provider as opposed to the schedule we'd want to set with the court."  Tenorio assures KUAM News that Han is scheduled to undergo the evaluation in march so the case may move forward.

Meanwhile, it appears the same case is bringing to light another issue relative to mental health at the court level.

"And maybe one public policy area that needs to be looked at is the current statute for expungement - it limits the public's right to information on certain cases," he said.

It appears Han's priors were expunged as she was arrested in 2009 for stabbing a baby and the baby's father. According to the victim's family in this case, Han took the insanity plea and was deemed unfit to stand trial due to paranoid schizophrenia. The case is believed to be expunged as the courts could not confirm or deny this information. He summarized, "And so I think without getting outside of the gray line I think that probably by working with the judges and working with the legislature and trying to balance that with what the needs of the public, maybe there needs to be some reconsideration with that.

"Or at least reevaluating the information."
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