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Fairfax assault case summonses Virginia mental health defenses

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Fairfax assault defense- image of baseball bat

Fairfax assault defense comes to the fore with the recent alleged baseball bat attack on local Congressmember’s staffers

Fairfax assault defense is not an abstract concept. As a Virginia criminal lawyer, I know the very real aspects of alleged and actual assaults, and about defending them. While I was in the Fairfax courthouse  earlier this week defending a client charged with felony counts, a court magistrate in this county was issuing warrants of arrest (charging documents) against 49-year-old Xuan-Kha Tran, alleging the Class 2 felony (carrying up to life in prison) of malicious wounding under Virginia Code § 18.2-51.2 for malicious bodily injury with intent to maim, disfigure, disable or kill with severe injury and permanent impairment; the Class 3 felony carrying up to twenty years in prison) of of malicious injury under Virginia Code § 18.2-51  for causing bodily injury with the intent to main, disfigure, disable or kill; and the Class 1 misdemeanor (carrying up to one year in jail) under Virginia Code § 18.2-57 of assault where the victim is selected because of their race, religious conviction, gender, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, color or national origin. The two felony counts are apparently for using a baseball bat to assault two Congressional staffers in a nearby regional office. The misdemeanor count is apparently for earlier in the day threatening another person with a baseball bat. Fairfax police report that one law enforcement officer received a minor in detaining the defendant. 

Offsetting the chilling image of a baseball bat attack with a Fairfax assault defendant who has untreated schizophrenia

Even the most veteran and caring of criminal defense lawyers can feel chills with the word imagery of an assailant whacking a baseball bat against a person’s skull or other body parts. This scenario summoned a talk I had long ago with a martial arts practitioner advising to block a baseball attack with one’s arm, because it is better to have the arm bones shatter than one’s head. The roots of violent crimes are often found in mental illness and drug addiction. When I learned that this Fairfax assault defendant — according to his father — has untreated schizophrenia for which the father has had challenges finding treatment, I felt a sense of relief that this was not part of some trend of physical threats against politicians for their views and votes. Having untreated schizophrenia is not automatically going to obtain a not guilty verdict in Virginia criminal court, but can be referenced by his criminal defense lawyer for settlement / plea negotiations and for any sentencing.

The Fairfax court mental health docket will not likely apply to this baseball bat assault defendant

For this Fairfax assault defendant, I doubt that the defendant will be offered the court’s mental health docket for reducing criminal charges or ultimately dismissing  criminal charges, due to the seriousness of the allegations. Successfully diagnosing and treating mental illness requires a multi-pronged approach. Counseling and medication alone are not always enough to solve mental illness. Of course, the ideal approaches to such challenges need to take into account the individual and their own ailments. Unfortunately, jail and prison environments seriously detract from recovering from mental illness, starting with something as simple as the absence of exposure to much or any fresh air or sunlight while jailed, let alone the claustrophobic feeling an inmate can get from being around inmates that include those to fear and avoid, and an environment that may sometimes smell at least less than pleasant and be far from climate controlled in the way that ideally suits the inmate.

How should a Virginia criminal defense lawyer deal with accused people with mental illness?

Early in my criminal defense career, as a public defender lawyer, in dealing with my first client with serious mental illness, I was talking with an unmedicated misdemeanor client with mental illness who was not speaking lucidly. At one point, he stated the non sequitur of “one right shoe, one left shoe.” He also said, in no relation to our talk: “We miss you very much, and will see you soon.” Around a year later, I met with this client when charged with a new misdemeanor, and he was smiling and completely lucid. When I mentioned being happy to see his upswing, he said that he was now on the right medication regimen. Certainly, the solution to mental illness is not to have drugged-out zombies, but instead to consider suitable medication in the mix. One of the most important things I can do as a Virginia criminal lawyer when assisting clients with mental illness is to recognize that I am not the professional who is able to diagnose nor treat such ailments, but that it is important for me to know about those ailments so that I can sufficiently relate with and help my client, and so my client can help me help them. I also need to give them and all clients compassion and empathy. It may drive some parents of younger Virginia criminal defendants nuts that I never judge my clients — whether or not they have mental illness — but instead engage with them, pursue the best possible outcome for them, and make sure I am supporting and advocating for their interests. For this Fairfax assault defendant accused of a baseball bat attack, I anticipate that his lawyer will obtain for him a full psychological evaluation to assist in defending him.

Mental illness can have gradations and should not be a scarlet letter

Decades ago, even having had mental health treatment for depression could have been a black mark on one’s professional career and reputation. That is wrong. We need to recognize that mental illness can strike anyone. It can be as mild as mild and very resolvable depression, and can run the spectrum to more serious issues and much worse. Part of the process of recovering from mental illness is for the person suffering such an ailment not to have to hide their ailment, and instead to have the moral support of their friends and relatives, and the understanding of anyone else who knows about their ailment. Otherwise, they may simply keep their ailment in the shadows, and not seek help nor suitable recovery. With this Fairfax assault defendant, his father reports having had challenges obtaining mental health treatment for him. Certainly, the pandemic created longer waiting lists for mental health professionals, even for patients with the financial resources to pay for their services.

Fairfax criminal lawyer Jonathan Katz pursues your best defense against Virginia DUI, felony and misdemeanor prosecutions. You will tremendously benefit from meeting with Jon Katz about your criminal defense, likely feeling much more knowledgeable and confident about your defenses by the time your consultation concludes. Call 703-383-1100 for your free in-person initial confidential consultation about your court-pending criminal case.