Within the United States, each individual state has their own way of defining mental illness. In the film, Fatal Attraction, the setting takes place in New York. In New York they follow heavily by the Mental Hygiene Law.
Following this, New York then defines a mental illness as “medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning”(“What is Mental Illness,”n.d.). It then also follows up by saying it “results in diminished capacity for coping with ordinary demands of life”(“What is Mental Illness,”n.d.). I believe that by this definition in New York, the character Alex Forrester, in Fatal Attraction, does have a mental illness.
Along with the definition of mental illness, New York also gives examples of what they define as serious mental illnesses. Some of these are panic disorder, major depression, and borderline personality disorder. Alex has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, then qualifying her to have a serious mental disorder in the state of New York (“What is Mental Illness,”n.d.).
Since I have mentioned the Mental Hygiene Law I feel it is important to talk about because it is such a big influence in New York. This law gives patients their rights concerning everything to do with personal, criminal, and health factors.
I feel this law is important because not only does it do this, but it also talks about the plans and degrees the state goes by when looking to prosecute someone, specifically one with a mental disorder. By this law, civil rights include that the people cannot be deprived of basic rights, allows them to register and vote, obtain and still be able to lose a drivers license, and protects them from abuse and mistreatment by those around them. Also included are personal rights.
This list has almost all you can think of but in short it contains rights to a good diet while in care, safe storage for belongings, an individual treatment plan, and also the right to know who to contact if they do have any complaints. The downfall about the personal rights is that these can be limited. The only way they can be though is if there is a written order by the person’s physician (“Office of Mental Health,”n.d.).
Another section of this law includes the admissions to being put under the program, which then leads to how a court will treat you if tried. There are three main types of admissions, they are (a) informal, (b) voluntary, and (c) involuntary. Informal is just how it sounds, it is when someone is requesting treatment but do not have a written application. These people are able to leave as they please as long as they are under this status. Voluntary is when the patient writes out a written application .
To get out of the facility or treatment they can then write another separate request, but it is possible that the director of the psychiatric facility may decline the request if they feel they still need continued treatment. Involuntary is also self explanatory. It can happen either when physicians agree the patient needs treatment, a certificate by the director of community services declares they are a harm to themselves or others, or emergency admission is when you have already been diagnosed with a mental illness and are seen as a threat to yourself or others which needs immediate care.
Once the patient is ready to leave they can be discharged, which is where their team or the judge declares they are clear to go. If someone has been committed under a criminal charge, then they will be released under the Criminal Procedure Law or Correction Law (“Office of Mental Health,”n.d.).
When someone with a mental illness is being tried, New York follows rules concerning the Mental Hygiene Law but also goes by the Kendra’s Law.
Kendra’s Law is a New York State law concerning involuntary outpatient commitment and grants judges the authority to mandate people receiving mental health services to take psychiatric drugs, regularly undergo psychiatric treatment, or both.
Kendra’s Law is a New York State law concerning involuntary outpatient commitment and grants judges the authority to mandate people receiving mental health services to take psychiatric drugs, regularly undergo psychiatric treatment, or both. (“Find Help Navigating the System,”n.d.)
Kendra’s Law is mostly concerned with outpatient treatment for those who have been in court. To be eligible you must be at least 18 years of age or have a guardian signature, have a mental illness, have a history of lack of compliance with other treatment plans, are seen as unfit to care for themselves in the community without being supervised, and have had at least one act of harmful actions toward themselves or others in the recent months.
After all of this is established and the patient is deemed to receive this care, they then must go through the process of a petition before their court hearing. They may file this petition in either a county or the Supreme Court.
Once the petition has been processed, and must be accepted, then the person may go through the steps of a hearing. A hearing date is typically set within the week of the petition being accepted. Once the date is set the court may go on with the hearing with or without the presence of the patient/subject. It is possible for the court to adjourn a meeting quickly, but this typically only occurs if the patient is deemed to need more assisted outpatient treatment along with a physician’s assessment.
Following this it is possible for the subject to not consent with what is going on. In this case, if the court finds the allegations true against the subject/patient they can order a law official to take them to a mental facility for further examination. Since this is typically against the will of the patient, the retaining of them can not be longer than a 24 hour period (“Find Help Navigating the System,”n.d.).
Following the hearing, the next step in the process deals with the courts findings. If the court sees that the patient does meet the criteria and the physician includes a written treatment plan, then the patient/subject will be granted outpatient treatment.
If the person does not follow through with their outpatient treatment then the court will have to follow up and place them in a mental hospital for examination to determine the next best placement to get them the help they need. Through all of these processes, someone will be appointed in charge of overseeing all of the outpatient treatments that had been proposed and provided by the court (“Find Help Navigating the System,”n.d.).
Between the Mental Hygiene Law and Kendra’s Law, the state of New York has extensive plans for someone with a mental illness that is being tried. What is explained above is just the mere basics, because for each individual they will have to go and look at specific cases to determine what will be best for their cause. New York likes to focus more on treating the mentally ill person to the best of their ability rather than just sending them straight into a jail or prison.
On the cases that the court does choose to prosecute the person with a mental illness, they must also take into account the statutes of limitations. Not every court case will have one of these, but many, especially with mentally ill people will.
If the person has impaired functioning it is deemed that they are unable to declare a timely manner for the hearing. The court will then decide the proper time and date if this becomes the case. With statues of limitations, it is important to understand them under each circumstance. Following this the court would then need to look into the social security case laws (Doyle & Castellano, 2016).
Before going any further into the limitations I feel it is important to describe what the definition of these are. From the New York courts, “statutes of limitations are laws which say how long, after certain events, a case may be started based on those events” (“New York State,”2015). These limitations in New York range anywhere from 1 year all the way up to there being no set limitation at all.
In New York it is also important to note that this state has different statues of limitations concerning if the crime is considered a felony or a misdemeanor. In the film, Fatal Attraction, the main character, Alex Forrester, commits both types of crimes.
The crimes I am going to focus on are trespassing, kidnapping, stalking, and attempted murder ( conspiracy in 1st degree). The misdemeanor of this list is her stalking. The other three have been determined as felonies. Another important aspect of these limitations is during the process of when they are being tolled.
If the person who has committed the crime goes missing/tries to hide from law officials, the limitations can be extended all the way up to 3 years (“Criminal statutes of limitations,”n.d). It is also important to keep in mind that although the court follows through well with these limitations, each case is different and one cannot automatically assume what the outcome will be. Those with a mental illness are taken into a different consideration, but can still be prosecuted, treated, or both in the state of New York.
After ample research, I have concluded that the crime of stalking in the film is considered 4th degree, making this a B misdemeanor charge (“New York Stalking Laws,”n.d.). Based on this classification, the statute of limitation in New York for this crime falls anywhere between 3-5 years (“What is Stalking Laws, Charges & Statute of Limitations,” 2018). The next crime up is trespassing. To the degree in the film, it is under a D felony charge, with a limitation of 3 years (“Criminal Trespass,”2018).
Third is when Alex had kidnapped the daughter Ellen after school. Although the child was returned back safely to her home, under New York laws they still consider this a crime. The charge would be a B felony with a variation on limitations. In some cases there is no time limit, but in others, depending on the facts at hand, it could be set to 5 years (“New York Kidnapping Attorney,” 2015). The final crime in the film would be attempted murder, also known as conspiracy in 1st degree. This is classified as an A-1 felony and has no limitation (Keeran, 2017).
I believe that if the character of Alex Forrester had remained alive that she would have been tried and went to court. If it had been declared that she did not have a mental illness, there is no doubt in my mind that she would have been tried and declared guilty for all crimes committed. Following that she would have been placed in prison with a life sentence, but that is not the case for this character. I feel that they would have determined her to be guilty by reason of insanity. Alex has clearly been defined as having a mental illness, which in turn, changes the route of action taken against her in court.
In New York I think the court would have ordered her to be an involuntary admission into a mental health facility. She would then be protected under the Mental Health Hygiene Law and Kendra’s Law. The court would assure that she would get the proper treatment needed in the facility until she was cleared to receive the next step, outpatient care. Depending on the courts jurisdiction it is possible that for some of her care she could be placed in a jail facility while also receiving treatment.
From the film we do not know many details based on her past history of crime, if any, so it is a little difficult to say what would then happen next after she got out of all of her treatment and was cleared. If she went to then commit another crime the court would have to look back at past actions and statutes of limitations to determine what her final hearing would say again. Alex Forrester is guilt of many crimes, but “luckily” for her New York tries their best to get the proper help and treatment for their criminals that come in diagnosed with a mental disorder.
- Criminal statutes of limitations: Time limits for state charges. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://resources.lawinfo.com/criminal-defense/criminal-statute-limitations-time-limits.html#new-york
- Criminal trespass. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.jeffreylichtman.com/criminal-trespass.html
- Doyle, G., & Castellano, J. (2016, June 16). Tolling the time limit to request a fair hearing: Physical or mental impairment. Retrieved from http://www.wnylc.com/kb_wnylc/entry/55/
- Find help navigating the system. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.naminys.org/mental-health-support/navigating-details/assisted-outpatient-treatment/
- Keeran, H. (2017, November 21). The statute of limitations for attempted murder. Retrieved from https://legalbeagle.com/6688402-statute-limitations-attempted-murder.html