Fight over competency issue leaves inmate waiting in jail for 2 1/2 years
LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – “Could I get a dismiss please and let me go?” defendant Clara Porter shouted out during an August 2013 Jefferson County court hearing, five months after she had been arrested. “What’s the verdict already?”
Nearly two years later, Porter not only doesn’t have a verdict, the case has been at a standstill.
Deemed incompetent to stand trial in 2013, Porter has spent nearly 2 ½ years locked up in jail, her case stalled as the courts decide whether the state can forcibly medicate her in hopes she can become sane.
Porter, charged with assault 3rd, menacing and criminal trespassing in March 2013, refused to take anti-psychotic medication, instead remaining at Metro Corrections while her case wound through higher and higher levels of the court system.
While it is not all that unusual for defendants to be forcibly medicated to see if they can regain competency, it is almost unheard of for a defendant to spend this long waiting in jail as courts decide the issue.
“This case is rare because there was an appeal” by Porter’s attorney, said Jessie Halladay, a spokesperson for the county attorney’s office.
With a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison for her charges, Porter would have been up for parole about two years ago and likely already served out had she been convicted in 2013.
Finally, in May, after having the case for more than a year, the state Court of Appeals ruled the crime was serious enough to warrant medicating Porter against her will.
On Tuesday, Porter will finally come back before the court to see if she has regained competency and the case can move forward. If she is still not competent, prosecutors can ask that the treatment be given more time. Or, it’s possible the case could be dismissed.
The case began on March 25, 2013, when Porter was arrested outside of the Healing Place. After a police officer asked her to leave, Porter allegedly “balled her fist and took a fighting stance” and then tried to hit the officer in the face, according to the arrest report.
Porter was found incompetent but Dr. Richard Johnson testified that after a previous arrest, Porter had shown improvement when she took an anti-psychotic drug. Johnson testified it would take roughly a week to six weeks for Porter to regain competency after starting the medication.
Sarah Clay, Porter’s attorney, argued she had a right to refuse the medication.
“Even if they are schizophrenic or they have some kind of psychotic disorder, that doesn’t mean they don’t have constitutional rights,” Clay said during a 2013 hearing.
During that hearing, Porter shouted throughout, until the judge finally ordered her removed from the courtroom.
District Court Judge David Holton ordered Porter be treated at the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center, but Porter refused treatment.
Since a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision, courts have been able to compel unwilling patients who are accused of serious crimes to take drugs in hopes of rendering them competent to stand trial.
However, the drugs can only be used in “limited circumstances,” including if the crime is serious and the likelihood the medicine will render the person competent without adverse side effects.
Clay appealed Holton’s decision, arguing in part, that the crime was not all that serious, pointing out that Porter failed to make contact while trying to strike the officer.
Also, Clay said there is no evidence that Porter had been found competent even after taking medication in the previous court case. And Clay argued that a doctor who testified was unqualified. Clay declined to comment while the case is pending.
A circuit court judge, however, agreed with Holton and then the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled that the lower judges were correct in finding that the state had “an important interest” in bringing her to trial “on these serious charges.”
If Porter is found competent on Tuesday after being medicated, her case will move forward, though in all likelihood she will soon be out of jail anyway, given the amount of time she has already served.
And as Holton pointed out at in an August 2013 hearing, “we can’t make her (take medication) once the court case is behind her.”
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