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Meth psychosis: 'The wave of the future'

Attorneys in Kitsap County have discovered a new strategy to defend clients accused of assault — meth-induced psychosis.

Deputy prosecutor Tim Drury, who leads a special assault unit for the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office, said his department has handled at least three cases in which meth-induced psychosis was used as a defense in the past few months. He expects more in the future.

“This type of defense is very new to this area, and we’ve just started to see this happen about a year and a half ago,” said Drury, whose special assault unit handles domestic violence, child abuse and other assault cases. “But I truly believe it is the wave of the future.”

The meth-induced psychosis defense hinges on the fact that prosecutors are required to prove intent to win an assault conviction.

If intent can’t be proven, the charge typically drops from assault to reckless endangerment or negligence, both of which carry lighter sentences. Those using the meth psychosis defense claim the highly addictive drug robbed the accused of her or his mental capacities. Therefore the defendant is not guilty of “intent,” as defined in state law.

Officials at the Kitsap Recovery Center have cited several studies that indicate chronic meth use can cause brain damage. In some cases, the brain’s chemistry is changed to a point where the subject becomes schizophrenic.

“Proving diminished capacity is a difficult burden for the defense,” said Drury. “It’s not easy removing intent from the assault because of meth use.”

Drury said prosecutors usually counter the meth psychosis argument by saying the defendant was intoxicated voluntarily.

“In a case of voluntary intoxication, a defendant has to be so drunk or so out of it that he or she is an automaton,” Drury said.

The meth-induced psychosis defense was invoked during a late September shooting case prosecuted by the special assault unit.

Victor Diaz, a 27-year-old Kitsap resident, pleaded guilty on Sept. 28 to first-degree assault. He entered an Alford plea, which means he maintained his innocence based on meth-induced diminished capacity, yet acknowledged that sufficient evidence existed to warrant a guilty verdict.

Diaz was sentenced to 93 months in prison, low on the sentencing scale for first-degree assault.

Diaz hadn’t slept for days leading up to New Year’s Eve 2000. He had been drinking and doing meth when he met his friend at a South Kitsap residence. Diaz was carrying a .32-caliber handgun, which he planned to trade when he met his friend.

Court documents said Diaz “heard voices” which told him to shoot his friend. So he did, three times — once in the left bicep, once in the lower left stomach area and once in the left pelvic region.

His friend almost died at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Diaz had no known criminal history before the incident.

“I have lost everything — my job, everything I own because of (meth),” Diaz, speaking through interpreters, told doctors at Western State Hospital in Steilacoom.

According to court documents, doctors considered him mentally healthy and normal.

“The Diaz case is a microcosm of the types of cases we are handling at the special assault unit,” said Drury. “It’s quite a sad case too. At his sentencing, Diaz apologized to his friend and said he didn’t know why he did what he did.”

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