Legislation closes loophole in state’s insanity defense law by calling for immediate evaluation after acquittal

 (NASHVILLE, TN), March 23, 2010 — The full Senate has voted to authorize a court to order defendants who are in custody and found not guilty by reason of insanity of a felony offense against the person, to remain in custody after the verdict to receive an outpatient mental health evaluation.  Senate Bill 1532 is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), and applies to such offenses as felony sex offenses, assaults, kidnappings, and robberies.

The bill follows an incident where a Bristol man was acquitted for the murder of his father by reason of insanity and released from jail without receiving a mental health evaluation.  This was due to recent changes in Tennessee law calling for the evaluations to be done on an outpatient basis.  Although an evaluation was ordered, it did not call for the person acquitted to remain in custody until it could be performed.  Upon going home after his release, the acquitted man became angry and headed for a closet where guns were located.

“In most states the decision of inpatient or outpatient evaluation is left to the court,” said Senator Overbey.  “Allowing the person to immediately go out into the community can be a very dangerous situation.  We need to close the loophole created when changes were made to our law in order to ensure immediate evaluation of the person acquitted under this defense.”
 
Tennessee courts are required to order outpatient evaluations for all individuals acquitted of a criminal offense when found not guilty by reason of insanity.  However, there is no mechanism that allows the court to detain a potentially violent individual in the time period between the verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity and the outpatient evaluation.  The legislation would address this issue by requiring the court to immediately issue an order for an outpatient evaluation. 

“This is a protective bill to ensure appropriate safety measures are taken upon the acquittal of those found not guilty by reason of insanity,” added Senator Norris.  “I am very pleased the Senate voted unanimously to approve the bill.”

The bill is pending action in the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Subcommittee.

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