A father in distress contacted our Goodna office seeking help in relation to his son’s outstanding police matters. His son, Jake, had been charged with wilful damage and public nuisance under the Summary Offences Act 2005. It appeared that this was to be a simple police matter where we would enter a plea of guilty or not guilty on behalf of the client and proceed upon his instruction. However, as the father went on to describe his son’s situation, it soon became clear that there were complex issues of drug abuse, poor mental health and significant family tragedy.
Three years prior to these charges Jake and his family experienced a life-changing tragedy that resulted in Jake’s battle with drug addiction and mental health issues. In 2013 Jake’s older brother went missing. It was difficult to determine the circumstances were surrounding Jake’s older brother’s disappearance. Jake’s family was desperate. Minutes seemed like hours, and hours became a lifetime. It soon became evident that there was little prospect of finding Jake’s brother alive. After an extensive search of the local area, it was Jake himself who discovered his brother’s car parked at a local quarry. But Jake’s brother was nowhere to be found. Authorities then took charge of the area and began searching. It was later discovered that Jake’s brother had tragically taken his own life. Jake and his family watched as Police recovered the body at the scene. Jake was only 19 years old.
Jake and his brother were mates. His brother was not only an older sibling, he was Jake’s best friend. As one would imagine, Jake was devastated. Following the loss of his brother, Jake fell into a deep depression and began self-medicating on illicit drugs to help deal with the grief and pain of losing his brother. Occasional use of synthetic marijuana escalated to once or twice a week. It was not long before the frequency of use escalated to three times a day. For Jake, depression turned into drug addiction and addiction led to significant mental health issues.
In 2015 Jake was admitted to the first of two mental health units under an involuntary treatment order. Jake was diagnosed with drug induced psychosis. His symptoms included hallucinations, violent outbursts and muscle spasms. According to Jake’s father, he did not recognise his own family and would react violently to his family and closest friends. Jake attempted suicide on numerous occasions. In one of his drug induced psychotic episodes Jake was charged with willful damage and public nuisance after damaging the front display of a Brisbane clothing store and causing a scene at a popular Brisbane restaurant.
In late 2015 Jake was admitted to the Mental Health Unit at a local hospital under another involuntary treatment order. During this time he was served with a Notice to Appear for the previously mentioned charges. Desperate for help, his father attended the Goodna Advice Bureau on Jake’s behalf and presented us with the Notice to Appear. It was at this point that we were presented with an ethical dilemma. Because Jake was in involuntary treatment it was concluded that he did not have capacity to sign an authority for Salvos Legal Humanitarian to act on his behalf. In the absence of this authority we could not act on Jake’s behalf at the first mention. After seeking advice from colleagues we advised that one of our solicitors would appear as amicus curiae (‘a friend of the Court’) and advise that Jake was under an involuntary treatment order and could not attend on this date. The matter was adjourned to early 2016.
In January 2016, Jake and his father attended our advice bureau at Goodna in relation to the next mention date. Having never met Jake we were pleased to see him in good health. He was well presented and spoke clearly and fluently. He advised that he had completed his involuntary treatment and was now in a 12 week rehabilitation program. Jake also had promising prospects of employment with a graphic designer. At this point it was evident that Jake was a bright, intelligent young man who, in the face of tragedy, fell victim to drugs and depression. Jake advised that he had attended a well-respected Catholic School and graduated with numerous accomplishments. He had completed his diploma in graphic design and was actively looking for employment before his brother passed away.
In light of this information we advised Jake and his father that we would attempt case conferencing to have the charges withdrawn on the basis that he was not of sound mind at the time of the incident. Having no criminal record and only past minor traffic offences, a case conferencing request advising Prosecutions of Jake’s recent trauma and the progress he has made thus far was submitted on Jake’s behalf.
A day before the next mention date Prosecutions advised that considering the information provided in the case conferencing request they would be withdrawing both charges. We promptly advised Jake and his father of the good news and they were delighted and very thankful for our help. Jake is now two months sober and is a resident at a drug rehabilitation facility. We are very encouraged by Jake’s progress and hope he keeps in touch.
An holistic approach to lawyering is important when one considers that issues facing clients go beyond the letter of the law. It is important to remember a quote attributed to Desmond Tutu which says, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”