The capacity-commitment process in criminal cases is complicated. It involves many moving parts in two different systems: criminal justice and mental health. How is the process bearing up in the COVID-19 era? Based on my conversations with the experts—lawyers, judges, and mental health professionals involved in these cases—the answer is surprisingly well. This post considers the various steps in the process and focuses on a concern common to many court proceedings these days: when does the defendant need to be present, in person or remotely?
In February 1843, Daniel M’Naughten was tried in London for the murder of Edward Drummond, the private secretary to Prime Minister Robert Peel. M’Naughten was laboring under the delusion that Prime Minister Peel was part of a system that was persecuting him. Only by shooting Peel could he end the torment. Drummond became the victim of these delusions when M’Naughten mistook him for Peel. The trial of M’Naughten, the verdict of insanity, and the aftermath made legal history.