Jacks Lawyers Make Last Minute Appeal Over Insanity Issue

Suspect may not have been competent when refusing insanity defense

Jacks Lawyers Make Last Minute Appeal Over Insanity Issue was originally published on City Desk on Jul. 28, 2009, at 6:34 pm

The Post has an impressive scoop this afternoon on last minute maneuverings in the Banita Jacks case. After closing arguments yesterday, one of Jacks’ attorneys, David Norman, was granted a bench conference before Judge Frederick H. Weisberg to discuss a “newly issued” report from a doctor who had evaluated Jacks shortly after her arrest. It all centers around her competency and whether or not an insanity defense should have been used.

Jacks defense attorneys stated that Jacks had fought such a defense. The Post writes:

“Banita Jacks’s attorneys made a last-minute effort Monday to alert a D.C. Superior Court judge that Jacks might not have been competent when she refused to pursue an insanity defense, telling the judge that they had considered mounting such a defense against her wishes.”

Judge Weisberg had sealed the bench conference, but the Post was able to obtain what appears to be a transcript of the proceedings. The paper reports:

“Norman said the report — which he said was completed last week — raises questions about Jacks’s mental state at the time she rejected her attorney’s advice to mount an insanity defense. Norman said the doctor was not able to complete the report because Jacks quickly rejected that defense. The report outlines statements Jacks allegedly made to the doctor.

"It lays out the basis of our concern about the viability of her defense and her capacity to make a competent waiver of it,’ Norman said.”

The Post went on to report:

“Weisberg expressed irritation that the attorneys had waited so long to present the report. He also questioned why the defense made the motion at the bench ex parte, or without prosecutors present.

"Weisberg told Norman that if the issue were to come up again, ‘I would not do it on an ex parte basis. The government has a say in whether or not an insanity defense is imposed against the will of the defendant.’

"Weisberg said he would not read the report until after he issued a verdict, which he could do as early as Wednesday.”

Weisberg’s point is not without reason considering that defense attorneys received the doctor’s report last week. The defense’s case amounted to just a few witnesses. A question of an insanity defense had been speculated about since Jacks was first arrested in January 2008. The fallout from the Jacks case had stressed a number of city agencies from the D.C. Police Department to CFSA. While various officials were grappling with the IG’s investigation, Jacks proved to be a very difficult defendant and inmate.

Almost a year after her arrest, doctors still struggled to determine whether Jacks was competent to stand trial. Jacks was sent to St. Elizabeths last October after refusing a mental evaluation at the D.C. Jail. Doctors at St. Elizabeths found her uncooperative. NBC-4 reported in December:

“According to the report, Jacks has repeatedly refused to speak with doctors but has shown improved behavior after being injected with Haldol, an anti-psychotic medication.

"Since being admitted, Jacks has displayed depressive, irritable and inappropriate emotions. At one point, officials read a description of the decomposition of her daughters’ bodies and she began smiling, doctors said.

"In addition, Jacks has not complied with basic hospital procedures, such as allowing workers to monitor her vital signs. She recently closed her fingers into a door, but refused X-rays.”

Attorney Norman refused to comment to City Desk on the bench conference.

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