The Buffalo News editorial board has an editorial that begins:
William “Bill” Sutherland is not behind bars, nor is he free. Sutherland has been confined to state psychiatric hospitals since pleading “not responsible by reason of mental illness” to a felony arson charge in 2000.
Sutherland’s plea got him out of serving prison time. A judge ordered him held in custody of the state Office of Mental Health for at least six months, which has stretched into 18-plus years. On repeated occasions state psychiatrists have examined Sutherland and concluded he was not ready to be released.
His plight only came into public view because Sutherland and his lawyer made a News reporter aware of his case. Many similar cases never come to light in New York; courts usually seal such records, ostensibly to protect the patient under medical privacy laws. However, any system in which designees of the government decide whether a person goes free or remains confined demands public visibility. Sealing records should be a last resort for judges, not their default choice.
Read more on The Buffalo News.