Elizabeth’s book, Representing People with Mental Disabilities was published by the American Bar Association a little over a year ago.

Response to the book has been overwhelming with many attorneys and activists happy to have such a resource.

Topics include:

  • Competency
  • Sanity
  • Neuroimaging
  • False Confessions
  • and Prison Conditions
“Competency to Stand Trial” by Eric Y. Drogin in Representing People with Mental Disabilities, Elizabeth Kelley, ed..

The Right Expert

Should a sufficient combination of the preceding concerns convince counsel that a legitimate problem with competency to stand trial may be present, the next task will be to obtain assistance from a qualified mental health professional. A few considerations in particular will assist in this task ...

First, who is going to pay for the expert? Privately funded cases ... enable counsel to seek out assistance on his or her own, without having to disclose that expert’s identity to the court or to the prosecution any time soon, if ever. With this protection, and in jurisdictions that do not compel disclosure even later in the course of criminal proceedings, counsel can afford (literally and figuratively) to weather an unhelpful initial expert opinion and seek supplemental support from an evaluator who is legitimately inclined to view competency matters more favorably.

Second, what expert discipline would be the most appropriate for a competency to stand trial evaluation? Should intellectual disability be a likely factor in the current case, the assistance of a psychologist will be particularly important, since Intelligence Quotient (IQ) testing will be necessary in all but the most dramatic cases of cognitive impairment. If some form of brain damage is likely to be a relevant factor, a neuropsychological specialist or neuropsychiatrist may be desirable, depending on how central to competency issues this issue is likely to become. In some jurisdictions - or in any event, in some courtrooms - a specifically “medical” opinion maybe preferable.

Third, irrespective of discipline, what attributes should counsel be seeking in a competency to stand trial expert? As a general matter, it is less important to search for the narrow specialization than it is to obtain an expert with a broad familiarity with all branches of mental health science. Based on the experience of your attorney colleagues in employing a potential expert, is he or she well-credentialed, readily available, consistent, and sincere? 
How What You Eat Impacts Your Mental Health
There is research that suggests that what we eat may not only affect our physical health but can have an impact on our mental health as well. We tend to separate the brain from the rest of our bodies, but we should look at good health from a holistic approach and treat our entire body well.

The Science

The connection between diet and mental health comes from what is known as "second brain," the connection between your brain and your gastrointestinal tract. Your GI tract is the home to billions of bacteria that have an influence on the production of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical substances that carry messages from the gut to the brain. Dopamine is an example of a neurotransmitter.

When you eat healthy food, you encourage the production of good bacteria in your gut. This good bacteria positively affects the production of neurotransmitters. If you only eat junk food, then you will suffer from inflammation, which will have a negative effect on the production of neurotransmitters. Your emotions will reflect this negativity. Sugar is a major culprit. If you stick to a diet of healthy food, you can reduce the incidence of depression and anxiety and eliminate mood fluctuations.
Elizabeth Kelley
Criminal Defense Attorney
Elizabeth Kelley is a criminal defense lawyer with a nationwide practice specializing in representing people with mental disabilities. She is the co-chair of The Arc's National Center for Criminal Justice and Disability, serves on the American Bar Association’s Commission on Disability Rights, Criminal Justice Section Council, and Editorial Board of the Criminal Justice Magazine Learn more.
Further Reading
Mental Fatigue, Anxiety And Hopelessness, Welcome To Today’s American Federal Prison Experience
“Someone who does not have diagnosable mental illness before going to prison, may very well develop one during the pandemic because of profound anxiety, depression and later PTSD caused by the trauma associated with the COVID-19 conditions in federal prison,” 

-Elizabeth Kelley
This past week, an inmate at FDC Miami was pulled down from a pipe that crossed over the top of his cell after hanging himself with a noose fashioned from clothes and bedding material. The inmate did not die but remains in a local Miami hospital as a result of his injuries.
Guest Commentary: Daniel Prude Was Experiencing a Mental Health Crisis, His Brother Called the Police, Now He’s Dead
Daniel Prude’s family needed help. Prude was experiencing a mental health crisis, so his brother called the police. A week later, due to injuries sustained during that police interaction, Prude was dead. This is a nightmare scenario for any family, but it’s especially wrenching for Black families like mine. My brother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 2007. As a young Black man with severe mental illness, his interactions with police are doubly fraught with peril.

Yet many states, including my brother’s home state of Georgia, have policies that require police interaction before families can get their loved ones the mental health treatment they need during a crisis. This rule puts our loved ones at risk and needs to change.
Body camera video shows officer involved shooting of 13-year-old with Asperger's after mom calls for help
The Salt Lake City Police Department released body camera footage of an officer involved shooting that left a 13-year-old boy who has Asperger's with multiple injuries.

The teen, identified as Linden Cameron by his mother Golda Barton, remains hospitalized following the shooting nearly two weeks ago.

An independent police investigation is being conducted, and Salt Lake City Police said they expect additional investigations from the district attorney's office and a civilian review board.
Incarcerated instead of in treatment
WITF health reporter Brett Sholtis was wrapping up work on a Friday night when he got a collect call from the Bucks County jail. The caller was worried about how corrections officers were treating another woman incarcerated with her named Kim Stringer.

Kim lives with serious mental illness, and Brett wrote a story last year about her family’s struggle to get her help. Since then, Kim was arrested. She’d repeatedly tried to hurt herself in jail, and corrections officers responded with force: macing her, forcing her into a restraint chair and leaving her in an empty cell where she sat, naked, in her own excrement.
Growing Coalition Backs Pervis Payne’s Fight for DNA Testing
Pervis Payne is less than three months away from being executed for a crime he has always insisted he did not commit. After more than 30 years on death row, his life may depend on whether a judge grants his request for DNA testing, which his attorneys say could prove his innocence.

Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich is opposing that testing, while Payne is now backed by a growing coalition of criminal justice and civil rights organizations, including the Innocence Project. Both sides made their case at a lengthy court hearing in Memphis last week. A decision is expected later this month.  
In Place of Police: The Oregon Experiment
Every call that is dispatched through the radio, twenty-four hours a day, to the CAHOOTS crisis responders is a tiny mystery, a staticky, incomplete assemblage of details. “White female in her thirties, brown hair, black mid-length shirt, last seen on Sixth, yelling and running into traffic,” for instance, on a recent Saturday evening in late August.
FREE E-Book! Families' Guide to Working with a Criminal Defense Lawyer

When your family member with a mental disability has been arrested or charged with a crime, it can be a confusing and challenging experience that leaves you unsure of where to turn for answers. Here are some key things families can do to help the defense attorney handling their case.
Representing People with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers

Elizabeth's new book titled Representing People with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers was just released by the American Bar Association. Topics include:

  • Co-Occurring Disorders
  • Testing
  • Competency
  • Risk of Violence
  • Mitigation.