By Angela Patel
RIVERSIDE, CA — A man on Thursday came to Riverside County Superior Court for a ruling on a mental health diversion that would allow him to undergo court-supervised treatment for two years rather than remain in custody.
The defendant, Jason Douglas Smith, was arrested in April 2018 for numerous charges including first degree residential burglary.
Smith allegedly broke into a home in Desert Hot Springs and pocketed a few items including a pair of gloves, socks and an umbrella, before being found by a resident of the home.
And he said something about looking for a dead body.
Smith reportedly told the victim not to call the police because he already had two strikes on his record and was not violent.
The defendant has two prior convictions for criminal threats and dissuading a witness, for which he was sentenced to six years in state prison in 2013.
Smith has also been diagnosed with schizophrenia, which doctors’ reports confirmed.
Smith’s defense attorney, Deputy Public Defender Jeffrey Economides, argued the defendant has been medication-compliant ever since he started taking his newest prescription. Economides noted that side effects such as vision problems, memory problems, and twitching had prevented Smith from taking his medication in the past.
“Heartbreak spiraled him to come to this new incident after a long period of being crime free,” the public defender claimed, adding that “he is now stable.”
Economides asked Judge Otis Sterling, III, to grant the mental health diversion, which would allow the defendant to go through two years of supervised mental health treatment rather than spend more time in prison.
If the treatment is successfully completed, the charges would be dismissed and the arrest record effectively sealed.
Prosecutor Lauren Donovan objected, arguing that Smith was “ineligible and unsuitable” for the diversion.
One of the requirements for the mental health diversion is that the defendant’s disorder played a significant role in the alleged crime. Donovan questioned if the defendant satisfied this requirement, pointing to his seemingly rational request for the victim not to call the police due to his prior strikes.
On the other hand, Smith claimed to police and doctors that he had broken into the victim’s house because he was convinced he needed to look for a dead body in the home. Defense attorney Economides pointed to this as evidence of delusion, a well-known symptom of schizophrenia.
Judge Sterling took both possibilities into account. “There is evidence that he came to take property, but there’s also evidence of delusion,” he said.
Another issue raised by prosecutor Donovan was the defendant’s history of noncompliance with treatment and parole, noting, “At a certain point, history is bound to repeat itself.”
Economides pointed out that the defendant had achieved five years of sobriety on his own from 2013 to 2018.
However, Judge Sterling did not think that there was enough proof to support the claim that Smith was sober and productive during this period.
Ultimately, Judge Sterling decided to put off a ruling on the diversion, saying he needed time to go over the arguments on either side.