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Sanity, competency evals cost county pretty penny

In May 2010, Craig Cooper forcefully entered his ex-girlfriend’s home, kidnapped her and later used her as a human shield during a police standoff.

Charged with aggravated burglary, burglary, theft, abduction and two counts of kidnapping, he requested a competency and sanity evaluation in June 2010.

The court found him competent and sane, a decision it upheld six months later.

Before Cooper pleaded no contest to aggravated burglary, grand theft and two counts of kidnapping — crimes for which he was sentenced to six years in prison — the state paid about $2,700 to determine that he was sane. 

In Athens County last year, 25 people charged with various crimes asked to undergo competency and sanity evaluations. Of those, only three were found not competent and none was found insane.

Evaluations for the 25 people cost the state of Ohio almost $34,000 — only $4,000 of which led to evaluations in the defendant’s favor.

In Ohio, any person charged with a misdemeanor or felony has the right to request a competency or sanity evaluation. The prosecutor or defense attorney can also request an evaluation.

“Competency is a person’s present mental understanding of the court and his or her ability to assist in (his or her) defense,” said Terry Kukor, director of the Forensic Psychiatry Center in Columbus, who added that sanity is the mental state of the per son at the time the crime was committed.

There are 10 different centers that conduct evaluations, such as The Forensic Diagnostic Center in Byesville, which handles all requests from Athens County. The county sent 25 people to the center last year, Director Andrew Reisner said.

“Forensic evaluations are different in many ways than regular ones,” Kukor said, adding that forensic psychologists must rely on multiple sources for evaluations, such as health and school records and interviews with friends and family.

Each center sets its own price for an evaluation — varying between $840 and $1,400 throughout Ohio, said Trudy Sharp, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Mental Health, in an email.

The Forensic Diagnostic Center in Byesville charges $1,352 per evaluation.

In 2011, 15 people from Athens County underwent competency evaluations at the center and 10 underwent sanity evaluations, Reisner said.

“Ten for sanity from one county is pretty significant,” Reisner said, adding that cases from Athens County usually request competency evaluations before sanity ones.

A large proportion of people tested are found not competent because of mental retardation, which hinders them from understanding the legal system and assisting in their defense, Reisner said. 

“In forensics you have to consider that someone is lying, fabricating or exaggerating,” Kukor said.

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