Public Comments for: HB613 - Arrest/prosecution of individual experiencing mental health emerg.; assault against law enforcement.
The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police opposes HB 613. The diminished mental capacity of an assailant is not known at the time of an interaction with police. The officer must take control of the incident for the safety of all individuals, including himself and the assailant, which may result in an arrest. The court has the capacity to identify mitigating factors and reduce charges based on the mental capacity of the individual in question. There is no harm to be corrected by this legislation, and it is not necessary.
HB 613 is an important and targeted effort to improve how our criminal justice system responds to Virginians in a serious mental health crisis. Mental Health America of Virginia supports efforts to apply current knowledge of brain chemistry and mental illness in ways that encourage, rather than discourage people to seek help for themselves or their loved ones. Well-trained law enforcement officers and citizens both are more likely to find successful outcomes when the felony charge against someone known to be acting from their illness is removed in the limited application of this bill.
Manipulative behavior can be masked and the officer(s) responding may not believe the person meets the common law McNaughton rule. But this is a determination that should not be left to officers in the field or even first line mental health workers, who may dissolve the order and the crisis-like behavior has subsided and the person is released. If an officer has been assaulted, or even murdered, there are affirmative defenses available at trial or in motions; by examining expert witnesses under oath. The intent of the law is humane for the truly mentally ill. But the practice, if enacted, can be license to expose officers to extreme danger, without relief.
I am writing in support of HB 613. I have practiced as a Public Defender in Albemarle County/Charlottesville for the last 16 years. During that time, I have defended numerous people charged with A&B on LEO. I strongly support removing this charge as an option in the circumstances described in the bill. The majority of cases I see involving this charge are for situations of mental health crisis (or intoxication). The person charged with the offense is usually remorseful once they have been stabilized but in their moment of crisis was desperate for help and understanding. Their family members or loved ones have called the police to assist with an ongoing crisis and are devastated when their actions unintentionally result in a felony charge that carries a mandatory minimum sentence. Our communities should encourage family and loved ones to reach out for help in times of a mental health crisis rather than chilling that impulse with the risk of seeing their beloved child, sister, brother, friend, or partner go to jail and branded a felon. Thank you for your consideration of this bill.