Man charged with stealing hot dogs may get deported

March 16, 2004|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - An illegal alien who has spent more than a year in jail for stealing a pack of hot dogs is on the verge of being committed to a mental health facility, having the criminal charges against him dismissed and being deported to his native Honduras, after all parties reached an agreement Monday in Franklin County Court.

A hearing will be held next Monday before Judge Richard J. Walsh on a civil petition to have the 33-year-old man, formerly of Waynesboro, Pa., committed to a mental health facility.

In exchange, Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson said he would agree to dismiss retail theft and resisting arrest charges.


"This matter has a bit of a complicated history," Walsh remarked at the beginning of Monday's hearing.

"It exemplifies the need for smoother merging between the civil commitment procedure and the criminal justice system," said Assistant Public Defender Jeremiah Zook.

Waynesboro police charged the man on Feb. 22, 2003, with stealing hot dogs from Henicle's Market. According to the affidavit of probable cause, the man walked out of the store and was pursued by a police officer to his apartment.

The officer entered the apartment, confronted the man and pepper sprayed him after he failed to comply, the affidavit stated. He fled the apartment and was caught with the help of a bystander, the affidavit said.

Since then, the man spent several months in jail before being transferred to Mayview State Hospital for further evaluation, according to David Yoder, the man's Mental Health Procedures Act attorney. He was returned to the county prison in September, still incompetent to stand trial, he said.

Yoder said he could not comment specifically on the nature of his client's condition and there was no evidence or testimony presented at the hearing. The man sat expressionless through the proceeding as a translator told him what was transpiring.

After the hearing, Yoder said one complication was that the intersection between mental health procedures and criminal procedures is "so muddy as to constitute a roadblock in and of themselves." There is no entity in charge of determining who should be civilly committed "and taking the lead in filing the petition," he said.

In this case, the prosecution and defense agreed the county's Mental Health/Mental Retardation Department would file the petition.

Nelson said criminal proceedings were stayed while the man's mental health situation was being evaluated. At the same time, Yoder said he could not be released on bail because he "would be unable to take care of himself and thus be a danger to himself and others."

Criminal competency, however, is different from civil competency, Yoder said. He said his client's commitment to a mental health facility would be temporary until the Immigration and Naturalization Service "gets its ducks in order and arranges for his voluntary deportation back to Honduras."

Earlier this month, Warden John Wetzel said about 16 percent of inmates have some kind of mental disorder and the problem of determining their competency often means they spend significantly more time in jail.

The summary retail theft charge in this case most likely would have resulted in a fine. The maximum sentence for the misdemeanor resisting arrest charge would have been two years in prison.

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