Activists campaigning for the rights of people with mental disabilities yesterday called on the judiciary to reform the psychological assessment process used by the courts.
“Although psychological assessment does exist in our judicial system, it is entirely up to the judge or prosecutor to decide whether a defendant should go through the process and it’s up to them to decide how the psychological assessment should proceed,” Alliance for the Mentally Ill secretary-general Eva Teng (滕西華) told a press conference in Taipei yesterday.
“It’s not fair to take the right to file for a psychological assessment from the defendant, the defendant’s family and their attorney,” she said.
The group made the comments in response to a legal case involving a mentally challenged man surnamed Chen who is suspected of setting fire to a laundromat in Kaohsiung in June last year, killing four people.
Chen was sentenced to life in prison on July 1, with the second trial scheduled to begin on Monday.
“It was obvious that Chen’s mental condition was quite instable and that the instability was having an impact on his defense in court. The trial should have been stopped, yet it continued,” said Sun Yi-hsin (孫一信), a long-time activist for the rights of the mentally disabled and now head staffer at Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chen Chieh-ju’s (陳節如) office.
“During the entire first trial, the prosecutor never filed for a psychological assessment and it was finally conducted after Chen’s lawyer repeatedly asked the judge,” Teng said. “Yet in a life-or-death case like this, the psychological assessment was no more than a few short interviews that took only one morning.”
The activists cited additional problems with the case, saying evidence presented to the court did not link Chen to the crime, while the witness who testified against Chen was not 100 percent sure that they had seen Chen start the fire.
“The entire case looks as though the judge and prosecutor were trying to make Chen the criminal because he’s not fully capable of defending himself in court,” Teng said.
“We need a better and standardized psychological assessment process to better protect the legal rights of the mentally challenged in court,” Teng said.