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Attorney to jail workers: Stop talking to my client

It was the routine in the St. Croix, Wisconsin county jail. Three times a week a mental health worker would go to the cells of inmates considered to be at risk of committing suicide to assess their state of mind and make sure they were OK. The attorney for an inmate accused of murdering his three daughters wants that stopped, claiming the therapist may be gathering information for prosecutors. He has gone to court to demand mental health workers stop trying to talk to his client.

The situation centers around whether or not anything the suspect says would be kept private under patient confidentiality laws. Jailers are already recording literally everything the man does; when he eats, when he sleeps and showers, who visits and when, interactions with medical and mental health staff and even when he uses the toilet. The suspect's attorney says he is no longer a suicide risk and has invoked his right to remain silent. The mental health worker, he charges, is an "agent of the state" who should not attempt to speak with his client unless his attorney is present.

The sheriff says conversations between the suspect and mental health personnel will remain confidential, even at trial. The defense disagrees and cites a memorandum from a jail sergeant telling jail deputies to keep a close eye on the man because, "The defense is seriously pursuing the insanity defense and our documentation may potentially mean a huge difference in this case."

The prosecutor says the right to remain silent only pertains to interrogations and there is no violation of Constitutional rights when jail employees are trying to ensure the inmate's safety. The defense says the mental health workers can only question his client if he initiates the conversation. It will be up to a judge to decide where inmate safety concerns end and the rights of the accused begin.

Source: Star-Tribune, "Mental health checkups or helping the prosecution?" Pam Louwagie, Sep. 18, 2012

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