Court doctors raise concerns about future sanity hearings

Court doctors raise concerns about future sanity hearings

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Doctors who make decisions about the sanity of criminal defendants say they haven't been paid in nearly three months.

It's a situation that the Orleans district attorney said needs to be resolved to ensure that defendants who are mentally unstable are not released inappropriately.

Nearly every day in Orleans Criminal Court, defendants are processed with varying degrees of mental competency, and it's up to psychologists like Rafael Salcedo to determine if their cases can proceed.

"If these evaluations aren't conducted, that could interfere with the progress and finality and a decision reached by a judge or a jury," said Salcedo, who has worked on sanity cases in Orleans courts for 20 years.

Now that system is in jeopardy because Salcedo and other doctors haven't been paid since June due to a cut in state funding.

"This is the worst," said Salcedo.

"It is a very unfortunate situation, where the doctors who go in and establish whether a defendant has a defect have not been paid in 90 days," said Orleans DA Leon Cannizzaro.

Cannizzaro believes the situation is potentially dire. He worries that if funding isn't found, the psychiatrists and psychologists will quit seeing defendants, and that could pose a danger to the community.

"You can't have people released without proper evaluation because you may put a very dangerous person back on the streets," Cannizzaro said.

If the doctors stop determining defendant sanity, it could also result in bad verdicts.

"That could cause problems down the road on appeals," Cannizzaro said.

Salcedo sent the judges a letter spelling out the problem. He said the money was cut because Orleans was the only parish in Louisiana where the state paid for court doctors.

"They say it's up to the city. Even the chief justice says she's having a hard time meeting with the right people to fund these individuals," Cannizzaro said.

The problem is a big concern for every judge concerned about case flow and justice, and it's one that the chief judge will address at a hearing Thursday.

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