Caught this article, which examines the argument by a defense attorney that his client’s statements to police should not be admitted due to his Bipolar diagnosis. The prosecution is arguing that the defendant’s presentation at the time of his statements was within normal limits; therefore, his mental health condition is not a factor. From the article:
He told Judge Lloyd Macdonald that Porter's mental condition and the fact he had not taken his medication for hours prior to being questioned by police were evidence Porter could not legally volunteer to make a statement.
Prosecutor Marian Ryan argued that Porter acted in a manner typical of someone trying to deflect blame and was also extremely detailed in describing the events of that day.
This gets to the issue of competency to waive Miranda rights, one of several different types of competency. While I don’t know much about the specifics of this case, a couple of thoughts do come to mind:
1) Most mental health issues ought to be considered on a continuum, rather than either/or, in terms of their impact on functioning. The presence of a particular disorder, such as Bipolar I Disorder, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a lack of competency. Until such a level of functioning is established, the diagnosis alone, generally speaking, is only one step in the process of determining whether the defendant was competent at that time. What is truly unfortunate is that this vagueness is not limited to lay people - plenty of records I’ve received over the years will have the generic “Bipolar” listed as a diagnosis, which becomes problematic when sorting out what symptoms the person has actually experienced.
2) It is often extremely frustrating when partial diagnoses such as “Bipolar” are thrown around. There are multiple diagnostic issues related to Bipolar-type disorders, which address many areas, including severity. As a primary example, Bipolar I Disorder is often a significantly debilitating disorder when untreated; Bipolar II Disorder, in contrast, might disrupt functioning to some degree, but would generally not impair an individual’s competency.
3) The diagnosis of “Bipolar” is fast becoming a diagnosis assigned to people who have engaged in impulsive behavior, often reckless or short-sighted, and based on an environmental trigger which escalated a particular emotion. Generally speaking, this is not Bipolar. This doesn’t mean that people with Bipolar disorder cannot be impulsive as well; the problem is that individuals with certain personality characteristics (often with the additional influence of alcohol or drugs), will typically engage in unhealthy behaviors whenever their emotions shift. This is not a Bipolar Disorder. A Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder, which means that is experienced as a longer term, qualitative shift in emotion that lasts almost all day, every day, for the duration of the disturbance. Full mania is debilitating, in that it often results in significant incapacitation and incredibly reckless behavior based on psychotic belief systems that develop as the mood elevates to extreme levels. As an example of mood versus affect (or short-term emotional state), a Major Depressive Mood episode must last a minimum of two weeks to be considered “depression.” A full manic episode must last a minimum of one week (often much longer when untreated), and represent a significant shift in functioning. Someone who acts out whenever something happens that changes how they feel in the moment may be impulsive, but this is not manic. Hopefully, the DSM-V will address this diagnostic trend, but I’m not optimistic; I fear the next round make actually make the issue worse.
Anyway, back to this case. The real issues in front of the judge are: 1) does the individual have a diagnosis that meets the state’s criteria for the minimum mental health issue that must be present; 2) Was the diagnosis, if present, active at the time of the statements; 3) if the symptoms were active, then to what degree were they active, and did they impair the individual’s understanding of his rights, and how making statements might impact his legal standing. Transcripts will certainly be important (how and what the defendant said during those sessions can go a long way towards determining whether he was experiencing any mania during the time frame in question). Even better would be a video recording of the interview, which is more and more common as a result of these types of issues being raised. Also of import would be the defendant’s actions prior to, and following, his statements.