Rep. McCann: Taking Away the Jury Trial is Undemocratic. (Open Letter)

Aubrey Ellen Shomo
14
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Dear Rep. McCann:

I am writing about HB1253-2014, a bill to take the right to jury trial away from persons believed to have a mental illness, currently scheduled for a vote on the floor of the State House of Representatives in Colorado on Tuesday, April 15.

I am a person who has been forcibly treated for mental illness in the State of Colorado on the basis of false allegations that were known to be false by the State personnel who used that force upon me.

It’s been known to happen. That’s why the trial was invented, and why societies as ancient as Athens understood the need for ordinary citizens to review the facts when the State chooses to use force to deprive a person of liberty.

I was too young to have the option for a Jury trial when that happened to me, so I understand just how important that right is.

When the State chooses to act improperly, what recourse does a citizen have other than the right to trial by jury?

I know what that right is worth because I have lived without it. I can assure you that right matters. It’s not just theory. It is democracy itself.

If I had had that right, perhaps I would have not had to suffer so much at the hands of the State. Now, you’re trying to take that right away from adults.

I don’t understand your recent sponsorship of House Bill 1253 (2014) [1] in the Colorado General Assembly. The bill is written, in its own words, to remove “the option for a jury trial for a certification for either a mental health or substance misuse hold.”

That means, according to your proposed law, that if the State wants to lock someone up, it merely has to accuse that person of being mentally ill or a drug user.

According to statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health, “An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.” [2]

That’s over a million Coloradans you want to put at risk of being locked up by the State without the right to jury trial. I am but one of that million.

Rep. McCann, under your new law, that could happen to you.

If the allegation is false, who will save you? Isn’t that what juries are for?

Criminals have the right to a jury trial before the State locks them up. Why would you take this right from people not even accused of a crime, but still subjected to forcible detention and worse by the State?
Are you so afraid of people like me that you’d decide to take our civil rights away?

Or do you just care less about fundamental constitutional protections and democratic ideals when they are applied to my people?

The State of Colorado has never stooped so low into knee-jerk bigotry as to deprive my entire people of the Jury trial at any point in its history. A million people.

Since before Colorado was a State, the Jury Trial, that last best hope of democracy itself, was preserved. In every version of the civil commitment statute, that right has been available. It was specifically preserved in 1868, 1877, 1908, 1935, and most recently when the statute was completely overhauled in 1975.

What could your reasoning for this possibly be? You have Stated none on the record. You haven’t even given a reason for attacking the civil rights of a million Coloradans.

Please, Madam Representative, reconsider what you’re doing. Kill HB1253 and make sure nothing like it is ever reintroduced.

In 2014, no one in public office should feel comfortable going after the civil rights of a million Americans. In 2014, no one should try to take the jury trial away from any citizen, let alone one out of every four citizens.

No politician should believe they can afford to go after a whole people’s civil rights.

It’s undemocratic. It’s unamerican. It’s just plain wrong.

You should be ashamed of yourself.

Sincerely,
Aubrey Ellen Shomo
Native Coloradan

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References:
[1] http://legiscan.com/CO/bill/HB1253/2014
[2] http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml#Intro

This is an open letter and may be reprinted anywhere by anyone.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Pretty shocking to me, especially since I may be moving to Colorado in the near future. If it passes the legislature, what is your best guess as to what Governor Hickenlooper will do with it? He’s a liberal Democrat, but unfortunately it seems that these corporate Democrats are the WORST on our issues.

  2. Why in the world don’t the Miranda warnings apply to psychiatry, or why isn’t it recognized that they do ?

    I encourage anyone who is involuntarily sitting in fron of a shrink asking them questions should as calmly as possible politely refuse to answer on the grounds that anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. And tell them you want a lawyer.

    • Reminds me of a book from the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. It describes the horror one of the two main protagonists endured from the psychiatric industry. Having this experience she refuses to talk to any psychiatrist (not even one word) which makes it impossible for them to diagnose her. Unfortunately, in the real world this approach is likely to fail, I’m sure they can find another way to give you a label (there were cases of people being “diagnosed” by a proxy).

      • Well, they can try someone in absentia but generally such a verdict is looked upon with suspicion. I imagine refusing to speak would be labeled “hostility” or something, but anything you do or don’t do or say can be labeled.

        As a lone individual without legal access this tactic might be futile but if it became a common practice we could turn it into a class action suit or a favorable precedent-setting court ruling on appeal, keeping in mind that the government never does something simply because it’s right but will respond to pressure, especially if it’s well organiized.

        • True. Problem is that most people’s first encounter with psychiatry is unexpected and they normally don’t know that they should be given Miranda warnings. After that the ship has sailed and you’ll never be free from the label.
          I actually had the questionable privilege to read my documents from the hospital. It was both amusing and enraging: basically consisted of pejorative adjectives like “distrustful, hostile, explosive, volatile” (on the plus side they assessed my intelligence as above average based on I don’t know what, maybe my occupational status) etc. followed by the “diagnosis”. Which was done based on me refusing to tell them anything about my personal life. I guess my mistake was saying anything at all.

    • Well, getting a lawyer usually doesn’t change much. I had a right to appear in front of the judge but until that happened I was so drugged that I don’t even remember the proceeding or that it even happened (I found out weeks after, when I complied about the infringement of my rights). Also the lawyer who was supposed to represent me didn’t speak my language and not even English, which was a clear violation of my rights. When I complained about it to the patients’ advocacy they told me I should just go talk with the doctors, they will surely feel bad for me and said that the hospital’s documents are in order hence I don’t have any standing. Wonder why this system does not work…

    • Here is another one,

      http://www.colorado2a.org/archives/425

      While the author seems to be OK with some for of second amendment control on some with “mental issues” he concedes,

      “It’s possible for the definition of “mental health issues” to continue to expand to include more and more people, in the same way that gun control laws and the definition of “assault weapons” have expanded. This may prevent people who need help from seeking it, out of fear that they will lose their right to keep and bear arms. Isn’t that worse? For someone to knowingly want help and possibly need help, to avoid involving themselves in the system as it may have an impact on their civil rights could potentially have a severe impact. Threatening and punishing people for wanting help are not the answers we need.”

      “Mental health is also very complex and is constantly changing as professionals learn more. Consider this for a moment: homosexuality was once considered a mental health issue. Now apply that to the idea that people with “mental health issues” should be barred from owning firearms. It isn’t right, is it?”

      • Wow, that’s unexpected. They were initially blaming the “mentally ill” for the problem to divert attention from guns but I guess they did some counting and turns out a change in strategy is in place… Well, I guess we can take that :). Maybe they’ll start talking about psych drugs and mass shootings…