Thursday, June 16, 2016

People v. Endsley (Cal. Ct. App. - June 16, 2016)

I think I know what's going on here.  But I do wonder how cases like this will be viewed in 100 years.

And maybe how the underlying statutory scheme should be viewed now.

Over twenty years ago, Mr. Endsley killed his father while he was insane.  His jury so finds.  So he gets committed to Patton State Hospital.

He stays there, getting treated, for a long, long time.  Eventually, Mr. Endsley believes that he's now better, so he files a petition for a judicial declaration of the restoration of his sanity.  The trial court, after hearing a recommendation from the hospital staff, decides that, yeah, he's better.

Which doesn't mean that he immediately gets released.  Rather, under the statute, it just means that he gets conditionally released to an outpatient program first.  Then, if he's "successful" in the outpatient program, he can then seek unconditional release into the community.

Here, after around a year of Mr. Endsley's participation in the outpatient program, "the trial court revoked [Endsley's] outpatient status based on reports that he was not processing his anger issues with his group home staff."  So he gets sent back to Patton.  Not an especially nice place.

What strikes me about this process is just how completely subjective and arbitrary it is.  Mr. Endsley gets recommitted to Patton because he "was not processing his anger issues" adequately.  Really?  He wasn't perfect in "processing his anger issues"?  Who exactly amongst us is?  I'm confident that I've had plenty of times that I didn't "process my anger issues" in the manner that's most psychologically productive.  Should I be involuntarily committed to a state hospital as well?  Plus, it's such a vague and amorphous thing.  Okay, he gets angry.  Okay, he should deal with it better.  Ditto for all of us.  How exactly does one draw the line between "not okay, but tolerable" expressions of frustration versus "not processing" one's anger so well that it justifies another decade or so in an institution.

Now, if Mr. Endsley is punching people, or smashing lamps, or knocking holes in the wall, look, I get it.  That's a bad sign.  But I'm not sure that inadequate "processing of anger issues" -- which is all the opinion says he did -- really gets me to the ending point here.  Is that really all it takes?  If so, I'm a bit worried.  For people like Mr. Endsley as well as for everyone else.  It seems like we should expect more from our criminal justice system than for your liberty to be based upon whether or not any one particular person feels like you're "processing your anger issues" in an optimal way.  And, at least until today, I thought it did.

Of course, I get it.  Mr. Endsley shot and killed his father.  He's clearly got -- or at least had -- serious problems.  We want to make sure he doesn't reoffend.  And I'm certain that there's conduct short of punching someone that would make me conclude that, uh, yeah, that dude has serious anger issues and needs to be put back in the hospital.  Pronto.

But I'm not sure that mere recitation of suboptimal "processing of anger issues with his group home staff" cuts it for me.  For me, I'd need to hear a lot more.  Otherwise it may sound like we're willing to send people back to a state hospital merely because some staff members think that someone is not "processing" things to the subjective satisfaction of others.  Which I would find troubling.

I hope Mr. Endsley gets better.  And I hope that we've got more definite rules -- standards, even -- for when people get deprived of their liberty rather than a mere inadequate "processing of anger issues".