New federal ruling creates issues with holding people unfit for trial

JACKSON COUNTY, Ore.– A recent order from a federal judge has changed the way the state approaches treating people who are not fit to stand trial.

The Jackson County DA’s Office said the federal law creates issues for them on a weekly basis.

In Oregon, the maximum time a person can be held at the state hospital is three years.

But the new federal ruling overrides the state statutes and only allows the state to hold people who are unfit to stand trial for a maximum of a year.

That maximum is also only for people who are accused of committing serious felonies.

For a misdemeanor, a person can only be held at the hospital for 90 days.

The DA’s Office said often times that isn’t enough to get that person to a place where they are able to participate in their own legal process.

Deputy District Attorney Wade Hilsher said, “are you able to communicate and aid your own attorney if you have a defense? Can you tell your attorney what your defense is? Can you tell them what witnesses you might need to have investigated? Can you understand what’s going on in the proceeding? Do you know what’s happening to you?”

Hilsher said the process of determining whether someone is fit for trial includes looking at their past medical records.

Usually someone who is unfit would need to be diagnosed with a qualifying mental illness, like schizophrenia.

Hilsher said psychologists do thorough evaluations before they determine whether someone is fit or unfit to stand trial.

He said the DA’s Office follows up frequently with every person they send to the state hospital.

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Former NBC5 News reporter Derek Strom is from Renton, Washington. He recently graduated from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communications at Washington State University with a degree in Broadcast News and a minor in Sports Management. He played in the drumline with the WSU marching band. These days, he plays the guitar and piano. Derek is a devoted fan of the Mariners, Seahawks, and Kraken.
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