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Incompetent to stand trial in Michigan: Man jailed for nearly a year before getting psychiatric help

Courtesy of the Dawson family

What happens to someone when they're found mentally incompetent to stand trial in Michigan? One Flint man's story offers some clues.

Justin Lee Dawson is severely developmentally disabled. Though Dawson is 28 years old, his family says he has the IQ of a six-year-old child.

After Genesee County prosecutors charged him with felony criminal sexual conduct in January of 2016, Dawson spent nearly a year in the county jail before he was moved to a state psychiatric facility.

That long wait, along with what's happened since, has left Justin's family and his court-appointed attorney angry and frustrated.

Michael Ewing is Dawson’s former defense attorney, but he continues speaking out for his former client.

“When I met Justin, and I was appointed to handle his case, and I was speaking to him about the charges and the courts and what was going on, I could see in his eyes this innocent kid – and I mean innocent at heart kid who really did not understand what was happening,” Ewing said. “He had no idea what the courts were doing. He didn’t understand what the role of the prosecutor was. He was very, very confused. And it was really heartbreaking to look at him and try to explain to him what’s happening to him when he doesn’t understand.”

Tshara Dawson is Justin’s older sister. Listen above to learn why Tshara said, “All of this that happened was blown way past what it needed to be.”

You'll also hear Justin Lee Dawson's full story.

Statement from Genesee County Prosecutor's Office about Justin Lee Dawson's case: 

This matter was first brought to our office through a warrant request from the police with allegations of criminal sexual conduct against a young child. We take these cases very seriously. As the situation unfolded and the defendant’s mental capacity became apparent, we followed the statutes precisely as they pertain to the adjudication of criminal cases involving developmentally disabled individuals. We joined in the defense motion to the court for a competency evaluation. We told the victim’s guardian that our long-term goal was for the defendant to become psychologically stabilized and disengaged from criminal behavior for the protection of the victim and the community. We recommended dismissal of the charges in the best interest of justice so long as the defendant obtained mental health treatment. We certainly hope the defendant is now receiving the treatment he needs.

This post was updated with a statement from Genesee County Prosecutors Office on Aug. 15.

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Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
Josh Hakala, a lifelong Michigander (East Lansing & Edwardsburg), comes to Michigan Radio after nearly two decades of working in a variety of fields within broadcasting and digital media.