LAS VEGAS (AP) - A program that has streamlined rulings about criminal defendants' mental fitness for trial in Nevada's busiest court is being accused of sacrificing constitutional rights for efficiency.
Clark County District Court Judge Jackie Glass, who handles competency court cases in the Las Vegas-based court, defended the
program during a Nevada Supreme Court hearing Monday. The state
high court made no immediate decision about the program.
Glass said criminal defendants were jailed an average of 57 days in 2004 and 77 days in 2005 while awaiting transfer to Lakes Crossing, the state mental health facility in Sparks.
By 2007, the average wait to be transported to Lakes Crossing was cut to 13 days, Glass said, and seven days in 2008.
But critics accuse Glass of rejecting challenges to her rulings and of failing to provide defense lawyers with full reports about defendants.
"We saw that our clients' constitutional rights were being violated in a variety of ways," said Christy Craig, chief deputy Clark County public defender.
Craig said Glass doesn't let defense attorneys bring in doctors of their choosing to make competency evaluations, and said defense attorneys only get short summaries of doctors' reports.
Gary Peck, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said he was concerned that Glass acted both as case administrator and fact-finding judge.
"It creates the appearance of a conflict of interest and it creates a problem because she is playing dual roles," Peck said.
The public defender's office highlighted the case of Kanohea Samuel Heaukulani, who faced criminal charges of open and gross lewdness in March 2007.
On May 17, 2007, Glass told the attorneys that Heaukulani was competent, and the case was set for trial before District Judge Donald Mosley.
Mosley reviewed Heaukulani's psychiatric report and ruled he should be sent to Lakes Crossing, but Glass had the case returned to her.
Defense attorneys were denied another competency evaluation, because the court "had already had the client evaluated according to the court's procedures," documents state.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)