A 97-year-old St. Augustine woman has already been declared incompetent to stand trial in the shooting death of her nephew, yet the state wants to keep her in jail until more mental health evaluations can be done. For now, Amanda Stevenson will remain in the St. Johns County jail while she is evaluated again by two doctors, according to a report in the St. Augustine Record. Stevenson’s limbo comes from a July court ruling that declared her incompetent to stand trial, yet not in a condition that warranted her being committed to a facility run by the Florida Department of Children and Families, the newspaper reported. Stevenson’s St. Johns County Criminal Defense Attorney argued the only alternative was for her to be sent home, and is trying to work out a set of conditions – including counseling, psychiatric care and terms of a court-ordered probation – that the court would accept. The only time a murder suspect is ever held in a county jail is when they are awaiting trial. A judge has already ruled Stevenson won’t stand trial, which led St. Augustine Criminal Defense Attorneys to argue why she was even still there and file a motion asking for her release.
St. Johns County state attorneys are arguing that Stevenson is a danger to society and that, while she is frail and mentally ill, she is in court because she is charged with murder — accused of shooting and killing someone. Until she can be placed somewhere that will ensure public safety, prosecutors said she should remain in jail, the newspaper reported. The case presents an interesting quandary regarding the mental health of defendants, especially when they are accused of serious crimes, as Stevenson is. On one hand, the charges against her are not going forward. On the other, she hasn’t been cleared – simply found not of the mental state to understand what is going on around her and to face a trial. In similar cases, a defendant is typically committed to a state mental hospital where they live, receive treatment and are kept in confinement in many ways similar to a prison, though they are not around a general prison population. Residents are not free to leave, but have been deemed unfit by doctors to live on their own in society, based both on mental evaluations and the crime or crimes they are accused of committing. In this St. Johns County murder case, Stevenson has essentially been declared too mentally ill to stand trial, but not sick enough to be committed to a state hospital.
Our justice system is built on ensuring that people accused of crimes are able to receive a fair trial and able to defend themselves in court. When mental illness is an issue, it is imperative that the person is still treated fairly in the system. Our St. Augustine Criminal Defense Attorney understands the complications involved in cases with potentially mentally ill clients and has a network of physicians to evaluate a client and determine the best steps moving forward.
If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in St. Augustine or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our St. Johns County Criminal Defense Lawyer, Victoria “Tori” Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.