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If You Can’t Try ‘Em, You Can’t Revoke Parole

(CN) - Convicts deemed mentally unfit to stand trial cannot be forced to attend parole-revocation hearings, the New York Court of Appeals ruled, looking at the case of a man deemed "unable to talk about his case in any intelligent fashion."

Convicted of murder in 1999, Edwin Lopez served a 15-year sentence before his release on lifetime parole supervision. He got into trouble again four years later on a misdemeanor assault charge that was dismissed.

Found incompetent to stand trial, Lopez was committed to a psychiatric institution, where he attacked another inmate on Aug. 11, 2008.

New York's highest court describes the results of Lopez's court-ordered psychiatric analysis for that infraction.

"The two psychologists who examined him opined that Lopez was not competent to stand trial," the opinion states. "They found that Lopez likely suffered from dementia, which 'would prevent [him] from constructing a rational defense and collaboratively working with his attorney.' He was 'unable to talk about his case in any intelligent fashion.'"

Although the criminal court dismissed Lopez's charges, the New York State Department of Corrections began parole-revocation proceedings, and an administrative law judge ordered his two-year reincarceration.

The Appellate Division reinstated Lopez's parole in response to the preliminary appeal, and Judge Eugene Pigott led a seven-judge panel of the state's highest court Tuesday in affirming that reversal.

"We hold that when a parolee lacks mental competency to stand trial, it is a violation of his or her due process rights to conduct a parole revocation hearing," Pigott wrote for the Court of Appeals.

Judges Jonathan Lippman, Susan Read, Jenny Rivera, Sheila Abdus Salaam, Leslie Stein and Eugene Fahey unanimously concurred, and called upon Albany to take further action on the issue.

"It is up to the legislature to address this disparity whereby a mentally incompetent defendant who has been charged with, but not convicted of, a crime may be committed to a psychiatric facility in the custody of [the Office of Mental Health], but a parole violator who developed mental incapacity after conviction and release may not be confined at all," the 12-page opinion states.

A spokeswoman for the corrections department said they "are aware of the results, and we are reviewing the matter."

Lawyers for Lopez did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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