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Competency evaluations are more common, mental health taken into consideration

WARSAW, Ind. -

Two high-profile cases in Michiana:  Amber Pasztor, the Fort Wayne mother accused of suffocating her two children, and Christopher Grimmett, the man who allegedly beat his girlfriend's two year old daughter to death, and buried her in the family's backyard.

Two different cases, two different counties. But one similarity: the courts ordered competency evaluations to make sure both Grimmett and Pasztor are competent to stand trial.

"It's become obvious that people committing certain crimes suffer from some sort of mental disorder, and that needs to be addressed," says Bryan Ciula.

Ciula is a psychologist at the Bowen Center in Kosciusko County.  He does some evaluations for the court system and says they're becoming more common.

"The increasing percentage of individuals who are incarcerated either in jails or in prisons, primarily because of mental disease or defect that hadn't been identified or treated," explains Ciula. "Chances are they wouldn't have engaged in the behavior in the first place.

That's why courts have come to places like the Bowen Center.  It enables them to see if certain suspects need to be jailed for their crimes, or treated for mental illness.

"Sometimes it's apparent that all is not well, and so the prosecution and the defense attorney will go ahead and ask for the court order of the evaluation," adds Ciula. 

The exams are lengthy, lasting at least three hours. 

While being tested, suspects undergo different kinds of tests to see if they can be fairly tried. 

They use something called the "Dusky Standard." 

The standard is used to see if the suspect has the rational ability to help their attorney with a defense for them; factual understanding of their charges and the roles each person plays in court; and the rational understanding of what they can, and cannot do, and general court proceedings.

Depending on the results, the suspect will either proceed with the trial, or go to a facility.  In the facility, they can be treated, and maybe reach a level of competency to proceed with their case.

Ciula says it's an important, necessary step in the justice system.

"Roughly 10%, give or take, of the incarcerated population, are there because of some type of mental disease or disorder," says Ciula. "It's a good idea to get these folks identified and addressed properly."

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