The recent case of Mark Latunski, accused of murdering and mutilating 25-year-old Kevin Bacon, has brought to light an old problem — long wait times at the state’s Center for Forensic Psychiatry.
Latunski, who has a long history of mental illness, is being held in the Shiawassee County Jail awaiting mental competency testing, which his attorney has said will take at least 60-90 days, if not longer.
A new bill introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives last week would require the state to complete a mental competency examination to determine a defendant’s competency to stand trial within 30 days of a court order.
State Rep. Doug Wozniak R-Shelby Township, sponsored House Bills 5325-27 alongside Reps. Julie Calley, (R-Portland) and Abdullah Hammoud, (D-Dearborn,) according to a Thursday, Jan. 9 Michigan House Republicans news release. The bills have been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.
The bill aims to address the backlog of criminal cases pending evaluation at the state forensic center and help local law enforcement access alternative options when the state is unable to complete a mental competency exam in a timely manner.
Currently, examinations to determine a defendant’s competency to stand trial must be completed at the Center for Forensic Psychiatry, a facility run by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
“The forensic center is so backlogged that many people are forced to wait months before they are examined,” Wozniak said in the release. “In the meantime, trials are delayed and defendants languish in county jails that often don’t have the proper resources to treat the mentally ill.”
Wozniak said he did not know much about the Latunski case, but recognizes the long wait times for psychiatric evaluation in Michigan are a problem across the board.
“It just takes way too long no matter what,” he said. “You should be evaluated quickly so you can get your day in court.”
As a practicing attorney, he said mental health issues are also a large part of elder law.
“I think we have to look at more creative, energetic methods to work with our ill people or mentally handicapped people,” he said.
A 2016 investigation by MLive revealed defendants were waiting six months on average for treatment at the forensic center, located in York Township south of Ann Arbor.
The investigation showed judges were issuing show-cause orders against the state to move the process along.
In 2018, in the wake of the investigation by MLive, three similar bills were by the House. The bills, sponsored by then state Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, attempted to tackle long wait times by putting a 45-day limit on the time it takes a criminal defendant to be examined by a forensic psychiatrist.
They passed the House Law and Justice Committee on Dec. 5 but never made it through the state Senate.