A bill package in the Michigan House of Representatives would expedite mental health competency testing by allowing more options if the state-run forensic center is backlogged.
Rep. Doug Wozniak, R-Shelby Township, introduced a plan to expedite the backlog of criminal cases awaiting evaluation at the state forensic center and to offer alternative options when the state facility can’t complete timely mental competency exams.
Wozniak said criminal cases involving defendant competency questions can move slowly, which pushes back court dates due to a restricted number of facilities offering the service.
“The forensic center is so backlogged that many people are forced to wait months before they are examined,” Wozniak said in a statement. “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.”
Right now, examinations to determine a defendant’s competency to stand trial must be completed at the Center for Forensic Psychiatry, a 272-bed facility in Saline run by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) that serves all 83 counties in Michigan.
The facility and its four satellite offices in Grand Traverse County, Kent County, Marquette County, and Wayne County evaluate approximately 3,000 people annually, according to the MDHHS.
Upon notice of a defense of insanity, the court would order the defendant to have a mental competency examination within 60 days.
If a defendant will be held in jail pending trial, the legislation would require the forensic center or court-appointed, qualified personnel to complete a mental competency examination within 30 days of the court order.
If the center doesn’t complete the examination within that time frame, the bills would allow the court to choose an independent, qualified person outside of the center to complete that person’s examination in a court-decided time frame.
Lynn Suftin, a public information officer at the MDHHS, told The Center Square they were reviewing the proposed legislation and haven’t yet taken a position on it.
The three-bill package, sponsored by Reps. Julie Calley, R-Portland, and Abdullah Hammoud, D-Dearborn, has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.