In February 2015, we received a panicked telephone call from a former client of ours, named Angie. Angie was calling from a police station. She had been arrested after her neighbours had accused her of threatening and intimidating them.
Having assisted Angie with a different matter several years earlier, we were aware that she had been a victim of severe domestic violence in the past. As a result she suffers from multiple psychological disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
We also knew that Angie had a past history of substance abuse. However, she had completed rehabilitation and psychological treatment and had managed to remain abstinent for several years.
When Angie attended our office with a copy of her Court Attendance Notice a few weeks later, she admitted to us that following her mother’s death two years earlier, she had become very depressed and began using drugs again.
Angie also told us about a neighbour named Bob who lived in the same apartment block. Bob had threatened her and other residents in the apartment block, and had recently been sentenced to a term of imprisonment for this.
Bob had been sending letters to Angie from gaol, continuing to threaten her and other people who lived in the apartment block. Angie was very frightened about this. When Angie told one of the neighbours about these letters, they interpreted this as a threat from Angie and reported it to the police.
Angie said that it was never her intention to intimidate any of her neighbours. She told us that some of her neighbours in the apartment block did not like her because she was mentally ill; and that was the reason they complained to the police about her.
When the police came to Angie’s home to arrest her for intimidation, they also charged her with possession of a prohibited substance.
Things kept getting worse for Angie. A short time after her arrest she was evicted from her home, because of her neighbour’s complaints to the Department of Housing.
After Angie became homeless, it was extremely difficult for us to get in contact with her to prepare for her hearing, or even to remind her about her Court dates.
Angie told us that she spent some nights sleeping on friends’ couches; some nights in homeless shelters; and some nights sleeping on trains. Often she had no way of charging her mobile phone battery.
We made representations to the police about the situation between Angie and her neighbours and they agreed to withdraw the charges of intimidation, but the charge of possession of a prohibited substance still remained unresolved.
With the help of our Chaplain, Angie was able to secure a place in a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation program at a facility run by The Salvation Army after the intimidation charges were withdrawn.
We decided to ask the Court to deal with the remaining charge under section 32 of the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act 1990 (NSW) (‘section 32’).
Section 32 allows Magistrates in the Local Court to dismiss charges if they are satisfied that the defendant suffers from a mental condition for which treatment is available in a mental health facility, and that it is in the public interest to divert a mentally disordered offender from the criminal justice system.
We were able to persuade the Magistrate to dismiss the remaining charge by providing the Court with a psychological report and Angie’s treatment plan from the drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.
Our assistance has meant that Angie has not only been able to resolve her legal issue, but also to access much needed treatment.
It is expected that Angie will complete her rehabilitation in a few months’ time. Angie has told us that since she commenced the drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, she is feeling happier and healthier than she has in a long time.