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Administrative Judge Matt D’Emic gives CLE on psychiatric issues in the justice system

May 16, 2019 Rob Abruzzese
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The Columbian Lawyers Association of Brooklyn recently hosted Hon. Matthew D’Emic, the administrative judge for the Kings County Supreme Court, Criminal Term, for a continuing legal education lecture on “Psychiatric Issues in the Justice System,” at Marco Polo Restaurant in Carroll Gardens.

President Joseph Rosato explained at the May 7 event that the association felt lucky to have Justice D’Emic speak on the topic since he has presided over Brooklyn’s mental health court since it was created in 2002.

“The Brooklyn Mental Health Court was one of the first of its kind in the country and has been copied all over since, so there really is no better person to have come talk with us,” Rosato said. “He’s lectured at Columbian Lawyers meetings in the past and always finds a way to make the topics compelling.”

In his lecture, Justice D’Emic explained the concepts of “not guilty by reason of insanity,” “extreme emotional disturbance,” “trial competency” and Kendra’s Law, also known as “assisted outpatient orders” and gave a broad overview of the mental health courts themselves.

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“With respect to ‘not guilty by reason of insanity,’ the defendant must prove he is not responsible by a preponderance of the evidence that ‘as a result of mental disease or defect,’ he lacked substantial capacity to know or appreciate either the nature and consequences of his conduct, or that his conduct was wrong,’” Justice D’Emic explained.

“Some cognitive disorders that may result in a verdict or plea of not responsible include schizophrenia, psychosis and major depressive disorder,” Justice D’Emic continued.

The judge then explained a case that came in front of him that involved a defendant who fired shots at police officers because he claimed he saw ghosts hovering above them and was trying to frighten them away to protect the police officers.

Another case mentioned by Justice D’Emic involved a woman who stabbed her grandmother to death because she was convinced that her grandma was possessed by demons and believed that stabbing her was the only way to protect her.

“The [not guilty by reason of insanity] defense is used in only about 1 or 2 percent of cases and of those it is successful about two percent of the time,” said Justice D’Emic. “Most often, these cases result in a plea because both the defense and prosecution expert witnesses agree that the defendant met the statutory definition.”

The judge explained that lawyers need to keep up on the latest developments in how the law handles mental illnesses because it helps to increase awareness of the difficulties associated with living with mental illness and decrease the stigma that often surrounds it.

Rosato also talked about the dangers of suicide and the fact that a mental illness can be considered a terminal illness for that reason.

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