Tulsa County DA Explains How Courts Handle Cases Dealing With Mental Health
TULSA, Oklahoma - In the wake of a tragedy, like the crash at the OSU homecoming parade, where mental health comes into question people might wonder how judges decide whether it played a role in the crime.
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler deals with cases involving mental health daily.
“If you walked in into court and you clearly were not of a sound mind, I'm duty bound under the law to bring it to the courts attention,” explained Kunzweiler.
Kunzweiler says that while Competency and insanity are usually used interchangeably in the public and in court, those two words mean very different things.
“One is, does that person that's in this court appreciate the nature and consequences of the charges and can they rationally assist their attorney in their defense,” said Kunzweiler. “Those two issues need to be answered. That does not bear upon the sanity of the person at the time the crime was committed."
As for insanity, that is determined during trial under the insanity defense.
As Dr. Kathy Lafortune explains, just because someone has a mental health diagnosis does not mean they won't answer for their crime.
“It involves the defendant being either unable to know the difference between right and wrong or unable to understand the consequences of one's actions," explained Lafortune.
She points out, Oklahoma has a high rate of mental illness that's not always treated and that's something the courts can't change.
“The problem in Oklahoma is that people are not always receiving services for mental illness that they desperately need,” she added.