“Civil Commitment” Prisoner Freed After 32 Years

tertia-van-rensburg-37121-copy-300x224You have to be careful about accepting any kind of a plea. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Just ask Jussie Smollett. He may have gotten off with a slap on the wrist, but now the police department is suing him for money related to the investigation and the federal government still wants to press charges. The original sounded too good to be true, which outraged local politicians and law enforcement.

If you want to hear about an even worse deal, ask Terry Allen who was held behind bars for 32 years without ever being convicted or sentenced of a crime. Allen took was is known as a “civil commitment” plea deal in lieu of facing criminal charges on an alleged sexual assault. He was never sentenced to prison. He was never convicted of a crime. He spent 32 years behind bars.

Again, it sounded like a great deal. Allen was facing several years behind bars when prosecutors offered a plea in lieu of a criminal sentence to voluntarily submit himself to civil commitment. Civil commitment is held aside for those who are deemed a threat to themselves or others but also have serious mental illness. However, civil commitment allows for patients to be detained indefinitely pending the results of a psychiatric evaluation.

When can Someone be Involuntarily Committed?

In order to be committed involuntarily for psychiatric treatment, an individual must be considered:

  • A credible threat to themselves or others;
  • Unable to care for their basic physical needs; or
  • Simply refuse treatment or not understand the need for treatment.

In the last case, it must be apparent that the individual will suffer mental deterioration that will prevent them from caring for themselves or become a threat to themselves or others.

“Better than Facing Criminal Charges”

In this case, the prosecutor told Allen that civil commitment would be better than facing criminal charges. Since this was his first offense, even if convicted, Allen would have faced a maximum of 15 years in prison. While the assault would have remained on his record for the rest of his life, he would not have spent 32 years of his life behind bars. So the argument as to whether or not civil commitment is “better” than facing criminal charges, even if one is convicted of the crime, is hard to make. We know that Allen would have spent less time behind bars had he pleaded guilty to the crime or lost at trial.

In the process of making their case against Allen, prosecutors hired two psychiatrists to determine if Allen was a “sexually dangerous person.” Unbeknownst to Allen, these psychiatrists were helping the prosecution make their case against Allen. In a bid to make the psychiatrists believe he was insane, Allen made the egregious error of exaggerating his claims to them. He told them that he had sexually coerced several women and the psychiatrists recommended that he remain behind bars until they could feel comfortable that he would not hurt others again. 32 years later, psychiatrists finally acquiesced.

Talk to a Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are inclined to take a plea that sounds like it is a good deal, talk to a skilled Chicago criminal defense attorney before signing anything. David Freidberg, Attorney at Law can help you determine if a plea is in your best interests and the potential fallout of a plea should you take it. Give us a call at (312) 560-7100 or contact us online to set up an appointment.

(image courtesy of Tertia van Rensburg)

Contact Information