Israeli Man Deemed Unfit to Stand Trial Kept in Custody for 11 Days

Bar Peleg
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Ofek Prison, where A. remained even after a committee ruled that he was unfit to stand trial
Ofek Prison, where A. remained even after a committee ruled that he was unfit to stand trialCredit: Tomer Appelbaum
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

A man with developmental disabilities spent 11 days in jail even after being deemed unfit to stand trial because the state couldn’t find a suitable treatment program for him. He was finally released from custody last week after a temporary placement was found for him.

24-year-old A., who copes with drug addiction and mental illness, has been indicted five times over the last two years, mainly for property offenses. In late March, he was arrested for assaulting a woman with intent to steal, and then indicted in April. The Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court approved the police’s request that he remain in jail until the end of his trial.

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At the request of his public defenders, Advs. Frida Vol and Avi Cohen, A. was referred to a panel that diagnoses intellectual disabilities on behalf of the Social Affairs Ministry. In mid-June, the panel recommended that the legal proceedings against A. be canceled, telling the court that A. is unfit to stand trial because he can’t distinguish right from wrong and doesn’t understand the function of the court.

The police objected to A.’s being sent home and asked that the court release him only after a suitable treatment program for him was found. A. therefore remained in jail for 11 days after the committee informed the court of its findings.

The difficulties in finding an appropriate program for A. have been chalked up to his combination of cognitive impairment, mental illness and drug addiction. The Social Affairs Ministry also said that the Health Ministry is responsible for suitable programs, and that coordination between the two ministries had proved difficult.

Magistrate's Court in Rishon Letzion Credit: Hadas Parush

Judge Shirly Dekel-Naveh demanded that the ministries resolve the issue, and last week held several hearings on A.’s case. Cohen said other detainees had physically harmed A. while he was in jail and threatened to appeal to the Supreme Court “which will tell the state to reconsider.”

Finally, the Social Affairs Ministry decided to send him to a drug rehab center, even though its social worker admitted that this was merely a temporary “band aid.”

Cohen suggested in the alternative that A. be sent to Beit Indiga, a shelter for Ethiopian Israelis, but police objected, on the grounds that A. might resume drug use or behave violently considering that at the shelter there is one staffer per four residents. But the court agreed to send him there pending another solution by the state, after A. promised not to resume drug use or behave violently in a video call from jail.

Dekel-Naveh clarified that she would not yet dismiss the case so that the court will be able to monitor the situation and ensure that the ministry finds A. a suitable program.

The Social Affairs Ministry said it had done “everything in its power” to find A. a suitable placement, but emphasized that because A. is recognized as 100 percent disabled due to his mental health issues, the most suitable programs are under the supervision of the Health Ministry and not under the purview of the Social Affairs Ministry.

In a statement, Vol and Cohen lamented that “the helplessness of the welfare and health authorities has resulted in the defendant remaining in jail for additional weeks because the responsible authorities failed to find a suitable framework for him, even a temporary one. We hope the welfare and health authorities will now finally manage to find a program suited to the defendant’s needs.”

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