The line between expressing forbidden criminal intent and aberrant mental health can be quite vague. The case of a man currently in the Lackawanna County Prison demonstrates the difficulties of distinguishing between expressions of intent to commit hate crimes and statements resulting from an emotional disturbance.
The defendant in this case is a 22-year-old man who was arrested by federal officers on weapons charges, including possessing an illegal machine gun. The arrest came after the officers became aware of the defendant's expression of white supremacist views on social media. After the man's arrest, federal prosecutors filed a motion to detain him pending trial because he is a public danger. The man's attorney said that he had posted "stupid stuff" on social media without realizing how the posts would reflect on him. The suspect served three months in the Navy before being discharged for medical reasons. The exact reasons for the discharge have not been specified. Court papers filed by the United States Attorney's office refer to a "depressive disorder" that require psychiatric evaluation.
After spending a week at First Hospital in Kingston, the defendant was discharged with instructions to continue to take anti-depressant medication. The magistrate judge then granted the prosecutor's motion for further detention, and the defendant has been returned to the Lackawanna County Prison. The defendant's attorney has filed a motion to release him from custody, but the court has not yet ruled.
The magistrate judge must determine whether the defendant is suffering from a mental disorder that causes him to make the racially charged statements or whether he genuinely intents to instill fear in a protected class, such as blacks or Hispanics. This case also demonstrates the value to an accused of having an experienced criminal defense attorney on his side.