Explaining the ‘active psychosis’ defense

Chris Plaskon in Milford Superior Court with his attorneys and uncle Friday, May 2, 2014.

MILFORD, Conn. (WTNH) – The attorney for Chris Plaskon, the 16-year-old accused of fatally stabbing a classmate one week ago, said Friday that his client is showing signs of active psychosis.

“He is still under psychiatric care,” Richard Meehan told reporters after the teenager’s arraignment at Milford Superior Court. “He was released today from the emergency commitment but he is on medication … he’s still displaying signs of active psychosis.”

Plaskon has been charged with murder in the slaying of Maren Sanchez, a friend who was stabbed to death last week in a hallway at Jonathan Law High School in Milford. He made his first court appearance Friday when a probable cause hearing was scheduled for June 4.

(MORE: Milford school stabbing suspect faces judge)

Attorneys have used the active psychosis claim as a defense strategy. But what exactly does it mean? We posed that question to Dr. Elaine Ducharme, a board-certified, state-licensed clinical psychologist.

“Active psychosis is when a person is out of touch with reality,” Ducharme said. “So they would be actively hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t there.”

To be clear, Ducharme has not evaluated Plaskon, nor is she involved in any way with the case.

“When somebody is actively psychotic, they are not in control of what they (are) doing,” she said. “They maybe (are) responding to a voice that’s in their head, telling them that they need to kill or they need to hurt.”

Ducharme continued, “And in those instances when they are in that active psychotic state, they really aren’t responsible. On the other hand, you have to be careful that somebody is not malingering and using that as a defense to get out of being responsible for their behavior.”

Plaskon will need to undergo a thorough psychiatric examination to determine just that, she said.

Jocelyn Maminta reporting

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