Bill would allow Michigan courts to hire psychological experts if exams are delayed

The Michigan Center for Forensic Psychiatry provides mental competency testing for courts in all 83 counties. (source: Michigan Department of Health and Human Services)
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LANSING (WJRT) (1/9/2020) - New legislation would allow Michigan courts to hire outside psychological experts to conduct mental competency testing when the Michigan Center for Forensic Psychology is backed up.

State Rep. Doug Wozniak, a Republican from Macomb County's Shelby Township, said backlogs at the state forensic center can delay criminal court proceedings by months.

Currently, all court-ordered mental competency testing in Michigan is conducted at the forensic center, involving about 3,000 suspects each year. Suspects awaiting testing often stay in county jails.

“The forensic center is so backlogged that many people are forced to wait months before they are examined,” Wozniak said. “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.”

In a high-profile Mid-Michigan case, Mark David Latunski is being held in the Shiawassee County Jail while awaiting mental competency testing to determine whether he was insane when he allegedly killed 25-year-old Kevin Bacon of Swartz Creek.

Shiawassee County Public Defender David Corwin hopes the competency tests for Latunski can be completed within 60 to 90 days. All court proceedings against Latunski are on hold until the testing is complete.

The competency tests usually last about three hours, but can take more or less time depending on the complexity, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Wozniak's legislation would require the Center for Forensic Psychology to complete a mental competency examination within 30 days of a court order being issued.

If the center cannot schedule and complete the testing in that time, the court would be allowed to appoint qualified psychological examiners to complete the testing.

The bills have been referred to the Michigan House Judiciary Committee for review. They would have to pass the committee, full House and Senate before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer could sign them into law.