Opening Remarks of Iris Eytan at the National Criminal Defense Forum on Forensic Mental Health & the Law

Iris Eytan Speaking at the National Criminal Defense Forum on Forensic Mental Health and the Law

Opening Remarks of Iris Eytan at the National Criminal Defense Forum on Forensic Mental Health & the Law

Iris Eytan served as a Co-Chair for the National Criminal Defense Forum on Forensic Mental Health & the Law.

At the Brown Palace Hotel, Denver, Colorado (September 19, 2013).


Thank you for coming.

From Guam, Japan, Puerto Rico, America Somoa, 42 of the 50 States in America represented.

You’re different, but all here for the same reason.  Members of the Armed Forces , Both Office Heads and troops of  Federal and State Public Defender Offices,  private criminal defense lawyers – veterans and rising stars, psychiatrists that lead forensic hospitals, psychologists, social workers, and investigators. 

All here, leaving your clients that rely on you, offices that need you, coming even though the sequestration has hit you, because you’re hungry and your case loads are expanding, whether it’s that one big capital case or a caseload full of clients that have mental impairments – and you  have made time and spent your money to learn how to help them, how can you make a difference to do something about this burgeoning population in our jails and prisons.  If we had 500 seats, they would be full.  That’s how many are hungry for this information.

Just this week:

  •          NPR ran a story about the soaring numbers of individuals with mental illness in jails.
  •          2.1 million bookings in jails of individuals with serious mental illness — that is 25% of all inmates.
  •          L.A. is considering spending $1 billion on a jail, just for the detained individuals with mental illness.

What this says is that it’s easier to get money into the corrections systems, than for legitimate treatment facilities.

Yes, we are all here because we fight that concept, we don’t believe in it.  We all can agree it is an absolute disgrace.

But, with our cases with individuals who only cause minimal harm to others or themselves by stealing a bike thinking it would send them to the heavens, or those with suicidal intentions wielding weapons at law enforcement begging to be killed by them and landing with assault on police officer charges, or those involved in the biggest harms caused by people with mental impairments—Navy Shipyard, our own Colorado tragedies, the Tucson shooting, we must be current, progressive, in helping these most disenfranchised individuals in our country.

We should crush the notion that an insanity or competency examination can be conducted in one hour, without regard to prior records and without interviews of people who know them best.

To have a judge rely on testimony of an evaluator that fights for a position on fitness to stand trial on the ability to:

  •          Repeat Back:  25, 36, 59, 90.
  •          Or knowing the meaning of  “Don’t throw stones at glass houses.”
  •          Or “How are an apple and an orange similar?”
  •          Or the names of one’s neighbors.

Our research is way beyond this draconian bullshit.

We have progressed.  As far as competency and insanity goes, yes, the seminal laws across the country are the same, as they are based on cases, Dusky and McNaughten and the like, but for both insanity and competency the interpretation of the case law and most importantly the testing, evaluations, and research in which the evaluations are based is constantly progressing.  And, we should be pushing to ensure that judges, prosecutors, clinicians, and fellow defense lawyers are rising up to the modernized research—the days are gone where an “expert” should get away with saying, “Well, he waived his rights to Miranda” – and he didn’t know what a “right“ means, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t understand what he was doing—he had an IQ of 70.  What should be gone are the days of well, he doesn’t fit in this DSM category, so not mentally ill and not insane.  They should be gone.

Here before you are the Peyton Mannings, DaVincis and Mick Jaggers of Forensic Psychology and the Law.  They are the masters.   

They came here for free, to share their incredible prowess in this subject with the hungry.  Perkse, Bursztjain, Philipsborn, LaVigne, Drizin, Zapf, Grisso, First, and Hunter.  An all-star cast, a dream team to present on Insanity, Incompetency, Veteran Representation, False Confessions, Speech and Language Impairments, and Understanding the DSM.  How lucky we would be if they were your client’s team.  But, we are lucky; they are going to share their combined 300 years of expertise in this burgeoning area with us. 

As an aside, these materials are phenomenal and worth their weight in gold, and will keep you from cruising Google looking for help.  You can lay a foundation by laying this book down on the witness stand.

So, thank you for coming.  And, thank you speakers in advance – you came understanding that this Forum is not about making money – but about educating.  The funds are the attorneys’ fees we negotiated from a civil rights suit our firm pursued against the State of Colorado Mental Health Hospital to better the health of individuals with mental impairments in the jail.  This is how the funds are being used – to put this on.

But, this couldn’t have been done without the incredible legal team at Reilly Pozner and Marcus Lock, the staff at RP, NACDL’s incredible organization, or my partners Dru Nielsen and Larry Pozner who are the most inventive, inspiring criminal defense lawyers to work with, and the Legal Center for People with Disabilities and Older People for participating as Plaintiffs and attorneys in the case.

Enjoy the Forum.  And come see your friends, colleagues from around the globe, and the Masters themselves tonight for a Big Bash at Reilly Pozner.  6:00.  Be there.



Iris Eytan is a Partner at Reilly Pozner LLP. She practices Criminal Defense with an emphasis in mental health defenses.