week 3 forum post responses 3

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In need of a 250 word response/discussion to each of the following forum posts. Agreement/disagreement/and/or continuing the discussion.

Original forum discussion/topic post is as follows:

This week’s forum focuses on the case of Ralph Tortorici. In 1994, Ralph was a psychology student at the University of Albany. He took his class hostage, and was subsequently charged with assault, kidnapping, and attempted murder.

Review the case history. There is a link to text, video transcripts, and video. Any of the resources will provide you with information to complete the forum.

Frontline. (n.d.). A case of insanity. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/crime/ralph/summary.html

Frontline. (n.d.) A case of insanity [Transcripts]. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/crime/etc/script.html

Frontline. (2016, January 24). A case of insanity [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/SR0OgsYGTBs

After reviewing the case information, respond to the following questions:

  • What are your initial reactions to the case?
  • What are the most compelling mental health issues in the case?
  • What are your thoughts about the court’s determination of Competent to Stand Trial?
  • Why was he not found to be insane by the court?
  • How does this case explain the relationship between the mental health and criminal justice system?

forum post response #1

What were my initial reactions to the case?

Four years after Tortorici’s suicide, prosecutor Coleman said, “We had the discretion to make a higher decision than we did” (Frontline, n.d.). A young man with a serious mental disorder had been sentenced to 20-47 years in prison. He would have spent approximately the same amount of time in a mental health facility. Consecutive maximum on each of the 11 counts. The smugness of the judge, DA, and prosecutor made me furious. At one point in her interview, Coleman said that the prosecution had received a packet of psychiatric records on Tortorici that was the size of the Encyclopedia Britannica! This young man was put in a solitary room on the mental health ward of maximum-security prison. ALONE WITH HIS DELUSIONS!! Within three weeks, he tried to kill himself (Frontline, n.d.).

My initial and pervasive reactions were outrage and sorrow.

What are the most compelling mental health issues in the case?

Tortorici had a well-documented history of mental illness. He was 15 when he began to change. What happened in high school? Conspiracy theories began at 16. He was psychotic and delusional during the bulk of his incarceration per Lynch, his defense attorney (Frontline, n.d.). There were medical records and a medical defense team to support insanity. Ralph Tortorici tested positive for cocaine, had suffered from delusions for many years, suspected that the police were out to get him, kept a list of all of those he suspected of being involved in the conspiracy, was convinced that during surgical procedures the government had placed a tracking device in his body, was delusion and suspicious, turned to drugs, was extremely depressed, fearful, anxious, and suicidal. Tortorici was diagnosed with cocaine intoxication, suicidal ideation, and depression and assessed with paranoid schizophrenia or paranoid delusional disorder while awaiting trial (Frontline, n.d.).

Mental health professionals believed that Ralph Tortorici was not responsible for his actions.

What are my thoughts about the court’s determination of Competent to Stand Trial?

Unfit to stand trial as defined by Criminal Code means that the accused person is unable, because of a mental disorder, to defend against the charges they are facing or to tell their lawyer what they want to do with their case. Tortorici was diagnosed as schizophrenic, delusional, and psychotic. He had no idea of the true meanings behind the concepts of right and wrong. There was no reason for the jury to empathize with him because he wasn’t even there.

I felt that a political agenda was behind the competency finding. I was appalled that Coleman was laughing through parts of her interview. At this point, Tortorici had completed suicide. It may have been nervous laughter, but it was completely unprofessional and lacked any empathy. She asked herself whether the trial should proceed. He couldn’t even be assessed to stand trial because he was so psychotic. Not competent initially. Siegel, a psychiatrist who assessed Tortorici’s mental health for competency, said: “If you’re not there mentally, it’s not a fair trial”. “He was certainly less able to help in his defense than most” per Coleman. Ralph did not want to be found unfit, but was he actually capable of making that decision?

A defendant must possess the ability to assist in his defense and to understand the nature of the charges against him. The threshold for determining competency is so low that it is a rarity for a defendant to be deemed unable to stand trial. Judge Rosen ruled that the trial would move forward: “…I felt, based on my own personal observation and communication with Ralph Tortorici, that he met the standard of competency to stand trial…” (Frontline, n.d.). Delaying the trial was not appealing to Rosen. Judge Rosen was not a mental health professional. Coleman believed that she was there to win cases and see that justice was done. Coleman said that she told the chief assistant DA that she didn’t want to proceed with the trial. Is there a record of that conversation? Insulting psychiatrists. Fierce in the protection of the rights of the victims. Using unfair but effective techniques to discredit expert witnesses. All the posturing in hindsight may have occurred or it may not have.

Why was he not found to be insane by the court?

The defendant was not in the courtroom during his trial (Frontline, n.d.). There was no reason for the jury to empathize with Tortorici because he wasn’t even there. Jurors are swayed by confident eyewitness testimony (Baumeister & Bushman, 2014). Coleman, the prosecutor, was not thinking about right or wrong, but about winning. She concentrated on victim agony. One eyewitness, Jason McEnaney, presented a compelling testimony. But his information was misleading and it had been two years since the event. Misleading information and length of time elapsed from an event to testimony negatively impact eyewitness memory (Thomas, Chen, Gordon, & Tenbrink, 2015). However, when a witness is confident, jurors tend to believe the testimony (Thomas et al., 2015). No one in the courtroom mentioned the fact that Tortorici told the hostages no one would get hurt if they all cooperated (Frontline, n.d.).

How does this case explain the relationship between the mental health and criminal justice system?

Lynch: “Ralph was very clear. He wanted to continue with the trial. He directed me to continue with the trial.” Tortorici absented himself from the courtroom because of his delusions concerning the government, turning jury focus to the victims. LaMarche, a juror, contended that the evidence that Tortorici knew and understood the consequences of his actions was overwhelming. Not one of the jurors ever witnessed Ralph Tortorici’s psychotic behaviors.

At the time of the trial, there were no expert witnesses on faulty eyewitness testimony. Mental health professionals were discredited by the prosecution. The criminal justice system did not see Tortorici as a victim of his disorder.

Today eyewitness testimony is being tested and questioned by psychologists. There is less stigma placed on mental disorders and the people who seek help for those disorders. I would hope that in the current society, people in a courtroom would listen to an expert when they describe a person as delusional, psychotic, and suicidal.

Forum post response #2

My initial reaction to this case is that while the crime Tortorici committed was in fact very wrong there was something off with this person. While he should have never kidnapped the students as the case explained he thought that the government was out to get him. I also was a little sadden that they would try to say that he was in the right state of mind during the time when there has been evidence years prior to the incident happening that Tortorici was having those delusions. This would also be to me the most compelling mental health issue in the case. It is not as if Tortorici just wanted to claim insanity when he got in trouble for the crimes he committed he had been seeking medical help for his delusions years prior. This is one of those cases where in my opinion it is very difficult to place blame on anyone. Tortorici was extremely mentally ill and while he should not have done what he did I still do not think that they can place full blame on him because he was not in the right mental state. This is especially true because he was also taking drugs that probably made his delusions even worse. My thoughts on the court’s determination of Competent to Stand Trail are that they should have postponed the trial. It was difficult to read that there had been multiple psychologists stating that Ralph was not in the right mental state during the crime and the prosecution was trying to hard to prove he was. It was frustrating to see that when the Coleman tried to find someone to prove he wasn’t insane and their own psychiatrist Dr. Lawrence Siegel stated that the trial should be put off till he could speak with Tortorici in a competent state showing that Tortorici was not in the right state of mind. The judge pushing forward in my opinion was wrong when testing someone for their mental stability it takes time and it should have been given to Tortorici. He wasn’t found to be insane because the jury said he knew what he was doing when he committed the crime. As I said before this is extremely frustrating because there were multiple psychologist and psychiatrist that stated he was giving delusions and was at the time of the crime insane. The jury is not mental health experts so the fact that they didn’t even listen to what they were saying is sad. I know there are times when people try to play the system after doing horrendous crimes and attempt to claim insanity, unfortunately it makes it to where people who are actually mentally ill pay the price for those people. In my opinion the criminal justice system and mental health need improvement. There needs to be the same trust that the mental health field should trust the justice system it should work both ways. If there is multiple people in the mental health field stating insanity and also people refusing to stand against Tortorici because they agree he was mentally ill that speaks volume and the justice system should have listened.

Forum post response #3

From my point of view about the case of Ralph Tortorici, a psychology student at the University of Albany who took his class hostage and was subsequently charged with assault, kidnapping, and attempted murder is quite a very shocking and terrifying real life situation.

  • My initial reactions to the case of Ralph Tortorici was that, he was suffering from different forms of abnormality such as chronic paranoid Schizophrenia and delusional because holding an entire class hostage because of being delusional that the government and media have messed up his brain and penis is really abnormal. I absolutely believe he has been confused due to different intake of cocaine and alcohol intoxication that got him out of a normal state of mind.
  • The most compelling mental health issues in the case of Ralph Tortorici includes a physical disorder to hypospadius, paranoid Schizophrenia, delusional disorder, Hallucination of hearing voices, acute psychosis, cocaine intoxication, and alcohol abuse. Based on these compelling mental health issues found in his case shows that he would have committed more harms not only his classmates, but also to the entire school if not for early intervention.
  • My thoughts about he count’s determination of competent to stand trial is absolutely right in the sense that, they wanted to making sure that he understand the charges and consequences of the legal proceedings and also to participate in the legal defense. This also I absolutely believe that, there was something going wrong with him as a burden to speak with the President of the United, States, the State Assembly, the United States Congress and all of the media for messing up his brain and penis. I also believe that he was also delusional in the sense that he was able to identify what is wrong from right. Although he later regretted his actions , but I believe he was competent enough to attend trial but always refused to attend trial. Even the psychiatrist and psychologists knew he was competent to stand trial, but he always declined knowing his right and insisted of incompetent to attend trial. Also, it got to a point whereby the professionals were not ready to evaluate him for competency, but for his responsibility.
  • I totally believe that he was not found to be insane by the court because the jury knew and understood that he was not in his right mental state of mind because he often displayed delusional, irrational behavior during the examination and was often hard to understand. This also shows that he understood the charges against him. Although was later sorry for his action and has more than a rudimentary understanding of trial and the roles of the judge, jury, prosecutor, and defense attorney and also never wanted to end up in jail.
  • In my own opinion, I believe that this case explain the relationship between the mental health and criminal justice system because different sectors have their areas of specialization. I absolutely believe both mental health and criminal justice system have a positive correlation to get any information they wanted in order to place the society in a place. Due to the fact that mental health professionals helps to evaluate clients mental health competency to ensure they are physically fit to associate with the general public. While criminal justice system on the other hand, wants to ensure that they get the right information about a clients mental health status in order to help make a valuable judgment and decision will help them to evaluate sanity from insanity. This also shows their different levels of evaluation and understanding, but in all is to make the society save for all.

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