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'El Chapo' to Undergo Mental Health Evaluation: Is Solitary Making Him Crazy?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on November 09, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Ever since Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman's extradition to the United States, he has been confined to an 80-square-foot cell in Brooklyn's Metropolitan Correctional Complex for 23 hours a day, given just one hour of exercise in a room with a single treadmill and stationary bicycle. And that solitude has taken its toll, according to Guzman's attorney, Eduardo Balarezo.

Balarezo wrote a detailed letter to United States District Judge Brian M. Cogan, describing the conditions of his client's confinement and the effects on his mental state. "Mr. Guzman has suffered a marked deterioration in his mental state," Balarezo wrote, including an "inability to remember people, places and events ... auditory hallucinations ... and ... depression." Judge Cogan ordered Guzman to be examined by a neuropsychologist as a result.

Cloistered Kingpin

Beyond these effects thus far, Balarezo warned continued solitary confinement could hinder prosecution in the future, as Guzman's mental state deteriorates. "At this time, counsel does not allege that Mr. Guzman is not competent," Balarezo contends. "Rather, counsel suggests that Mr. Guzman's condition may eventually result in a finding of incompetence if it is not addressed soon." Balarezo requested a contact visit with neuropsychologist Cynthia Munro to examine Guzman and "determine whether the harsh conditions of confinement are affecting Mr. Guzman's ability to assist counsel with his defense."

"I would ideally need to have a contact visit with Mr. Guzman to facilitate my ability to establish the rapport that will encourage him to disclose sensitive personal information," Munro wrote in her own letter to the judge, "but I understand that this will not be permitted." Judge Cogan in fact denied the request for an in-person consultation in favor of a remote examination.

El Chapo's Competency

There are a few scenarios in which a court can order a mental health evaluation of a defendant or inmate. And determining competence is one of them. In order for a person to stand trial, he or she must have the capacity to understand the nature and object of the proceedings, to consult with their counsel, and to assist in preparing their defense.

The judge will have the final say on whether El Chapo is competent, with input from medical professionals and the mental health evaluation.

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