Task Force Examines the Insanity Defense
Over the years, the insanity defense has been a controversial tactic not only in Texas Courts, but others across the country. During this Interim of the 77th Legislature, a special task force is studying the methods by which a defendant may be judged competent to stand trial, or whether that defendant may be insane.
The task force met today, October 16, 2002, at the Senate Chamber in Austin. Their charge is to examine current laws and practices and decide what new legislation should be proposed. Issues include what kind of burden the defendant should have to prove the lack of competence, in what cases jury trials may not be used, and whether any constitutional amendments may be necessary.
A different work group focused on the evaluation process, how certain defendants are certified as fit or unfit for trial. It examined how other states such as Utah determine competency, as well as how to ensure that any defendant has an attorney appointed before any such evaluation takes place. Task force chairman Senator Robert Duncan of Lubbock said that given the state's expected budget deficit, the recommendations should have cost estimates. The committee also examined the best way to get the recommendations implemented. Other issues included the role of hospitals and Mental Health and Mental Retardation facilities.
The task force will continue to research the issues regarding the insanity defense during the fall. Its report is due to be presented to the 78th Legislature in January at which time lawmakers will decide which recommendations to adopt. The task force recessed subject to call of the chair.