Mentally Ill or Just Plain Evil?

On February 18, 2014, in the Chamber judgment in Ruiz Rivera v. Switzerland, which is not final until the parties decide whether or not to pursue the case in front of the Grand Chamber, the European Court of Human Rights held that there was a violation of Article 5 § 4  (right to have lawfulness of detention decided speedily) of the European Convention on Human Rights. This was based on the refusal by the courts to order a further psychiatric report and hold an adversarial hearing before the Zürich Administrative Court.

The Applicant, Carlos Humberto Ruiz Rivera, is a Peruvian national who was born in 1955.  He was living in Zürich at the relevant time. On April 6, 1955, while under the under the influence of alcohol and cocaine, Ruiz Rivera stabbed his wife 49 times, cut off her head, and threw it out of the window of the apartment. He was charged with murder.

The case concerned the refusal by the Swiss authorities, relying on two medical expert reports diagnosing paranoid and schizoid disorders, to release a person placed in psychiatric detention for having killed and decapitated his wife. The Applicant has always disputed the medical validity of the reports, claiming that he does not suffer from paranoid schizophrenia and that he murdered his wife while under the influence of drugs and in a fit of anger.

The Zürich prosecutor’s office requested a psychiatric report and in October 1995, a psychiatrist filed his report, which stated that he observed Ruiz Rivera as a drug user who suffered from chronic paranoid schizophrenia. The psychiatrist concluded that the Applicant was not responsible for his actions at the relevant time. Ruiz Rivera was imprisoned and on June 7, 2001, a second psychiatric report was created and experts observed that the Applicant’s situation hardly changed since the first psychiatric report in 1995.

In 2004, Ruiz Rivera’s request for probation was denied. On September 11, 2007, the Zürich District Court ordered a further psychiatric report on Mr. Ruiz Rivera and on April 28, 2008 the court appointed expert filed a report establishing that Ruiz Rivera had committed the crime while “in a psychotic state of need” but his schizophrenic illness could not be identified. As a result, Mr. Ruiz Rivera was released on bail subject to a five-year probation order and was immediately deported to Peru.

Relying on Article 5 § 4 (right to have lawfulness of detention decided speedily) and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy), the Applicant complained of the conditions in which the authorities had refused to release him in 2004. He complained of their refusal to order a further psychiatric report and that the courts had refused to hold a hearing during which he could have submitted his observations orally and addressed any relevant questions to the expert who had drawn up the first psychiatric report in 2001. The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on February 24, 2006.

The Court concluded that there had been a violation of Article 5 § 4 on the grounds that there had been no hearing before the Zürich Administrative Court. The Court found that the domestic authorities, not having ordered a third independent medical opinion, had not been in possession of sufficient evidence to enable them to establish that the conditions for releasing the Applicant on probation were not met. It also held that the Zürich Administrative Court should have held a hearing in order to hear submissions from the Applicant in person. The Court was of the opinion that the Zürich Administrative Court could not therefore dispense with a hearing at which Mr. Ruiz Rivera could be heard in person.

Do you think the Court made the right decision when it decided Applicant’s right to have his detention decided speedily was violated? Do you think it was unreasonable for the Applicant to undergo multiple psychiatric evaluations? How much proof of mental illness was needed before the authorities would accept the reports? If this case is heard by the Grand Chamber, do you think that Court will rule differently?



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One comment

  1. While it is impossible to ignore the heinous nature of the defendant’s crime here, it is necessary to try and focus on the process. The question I want to pose is how many psychiatric reports is the defendant entitled to? One every 5 years, one every 10 years, one whenever he requests? From the facts, it seems that the Defendant received a psychiatric report in roughly two 5-year increments: one in 1995 when he was being prosecuted, and another in 2001. Later on in 2007, he received a final report. Being that the first two reports over a 5-6 year span revealed no difference or improvement, it seems hard to believe that this Defendant would be entitled to another report at his own whim. However I do agree that the Defendant should have been able to have a hearing in 2001 when the second report was rendered. I can’t say that there was a substantial injustice here, but a hearing would have been appropriate.

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