May 2008: Raúl calls 911
Three years ago, Raúl, 14, was charged with making a bomb threat. Under pressure from a peer, Raúl allegedly called the police, reporting that he saw someone place a bomb in a trash can at the local teen center. Authorities immediately evacuated and searched the center. They later identified the call as a hoax.
When Raúl came to Court, his attorney was concerned that Raúl did not seem to understand the Court process.
He also questioned Raúl’s mental state at the time of the incident. The Judge ordered Raúl to be evaluated at ACS to see if he was competent to stand trial and if he could be held criminally responsible for his actions (see back). The Judge also asked ACS to recommend services that could help Raúl
The ACS evaluations uncovered a host of factors contributing to Raúl’s behavior.
Exposure to Violence: Raúl and his mother met with ACS clinician, Dr. Susan Flood, to complete the evaluations. Raúl did not want to talk and refused to make eye contact. He seemed sad and sullen. Dr. Flood learned that as a young teenager in Colombia, Raúl’s mother married a man who severely abused her. When Raúl was ten, she fled Colombia and the abusive relationship, taking Raúl and his sister with her. The family ultimately settled in Massachusetts.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Raúl appeared vulnerable and traumatized. The early, tumultuous years profoundly affected him on a daily basis. He had excessive fears about his mother’s safety. He was scared of the dark and could not sleep alone. Afraid of leaving home, he spent much of his spare time following his mother around the house. He had suicidal thoughts and made numerous aggressive threats that led to six psychiatric hospitalizations.
Non-verbal Learning Disability: Dr. Flood also found that Raúl struggled with a non-verbal learning disability. This explained why he frequently misinterpreted social cues. He often misread the intentions of others and mistakenly perceived threats in his daily social interactions. Bullied, picked on, and ostracized by his male classmates, he had only a few female friends.
Communication Barriers: Language barriers posed another obstacle. Raúl spoke no English when he arrived in the country, so early on, he had difficulty communicating with his teachers and peers. His mother spoke no English. She struggled to talk about Raúl’s difficulties with the English-speaking staff at his school.
Unable to Understand Court Processes: Dr. Flood evaluated Raul’s understanding of the Court process. Due to his immaturity, learning difficulties and emotional problems, Raúl didn’t understand the trial process.
For example, he did not understand the roles of the different people in the Courtroom and the different stages of a trial. He couldn’t pay attention and was unable to think through the risks and benefits of making certain decisions in Court, such as whether to take his case to trial or accept a plea deal.
August 2008: Raúl found not competent.
Based on Dr. Flood’s evaluation, the Judge decided that Raúl was not competent to stand trial. Dr. Flood recommended services that would help Raul become competent to stand trial. The Court asked ACS to re-evaluate Raul again after he had received services to see if his ability to understand the process had changed.
November 2008: Raúl makes progress in a new school.
Because Raúl’s crime was a felony offense, his school excluded him immediately after the 911 call. He was out of school for months. Finally, the school placed him in a therapeutic day school for a 45-day assessment, where he made enormous progress. But at the end of the 45 days, the school asked Raúl to return to the alternative program at his local high school. Raúl, his mother, his counselor, and Dr. Flood all thought that the alternative program was a poor fit for Raúl. They feared that its street-wise student body would intimidate Raúl, and that he might lose all the progress he had made. With advocacy from Dr. Flood and his attorney, Raúl gained permission to remain at the therapeutic school, where he continued to thrive. He also began attending a structured after-school program, which further helped him gain security and confidence.
February 2009 and October 2010
The Court asked for two more ACS evaluations of Raúl, one in 2009 and another in 2010, to see if there were any changes in his ability to understand the court process. Finally, he was found competent to stand trial—the result of successful therapeutic interventions, education, and increased maturity.
June 2011: Dr. Flood testifies at Raúl’s trial.
Three years after the 911 phone call and after he was finally found competent, Raúl’s case came to trial. Dr. Flood then provided results from her evaluation of Raul’s Criminal Responsibility. She gave testimony, supporting the conclusion that at the time of the alleged incident, a mental illness or defect had impaired Raúl’s ability to control the alleged behavior that led to the charge as well as appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions. Dr. Flood testified that, since Raúl was severely traumatized at the time of his crime, he was highly susceptible to peer intimidation and due to his non-verbal learning disability, he was likely to misread social cues and intentions. The Court determined that the call was not made with conscious, malicious intent, and found Raúl responsible, but not guilty due to lack of intent.
Thanks to ACS’s guidance and testimony, Raúl is thriving and looking forward to graduation.
After his trial, Raúl came to Dr. Flood’s office to thank her for her help. He was dressed smartly, smiled, and made direct eye contact (for the first time!) as he shook her hand. What a change from three years prior!
This year, Raúl will be graduating from high school. With a job in food services already lined up, his future looks so much brighter. Raul, his mother, the community—everyone benefits when kids like Raul move ahead in positive directions.