Mentally Ill Man Arrested after Counselor Reported Patient’s Plan to Commit Murder

A mentally ill man was arrested in Utah after his counselor reported the patient’s plan to commit murder.

On a deadly assignment

25 year old Joseph Terrill Bonnell-Hall who is listed as a resident of Plummer Idaho within the boundaries of the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Reservation was arrested in Utah while allegedly en route to Albuquerque New Mexico to murder four people. Bonnell-Hall’s counselor at a treatment center on the reservation alerted authorities that Bonnell-Hall was mentally ill and had left the facility with plans to murder people. According to the information put out by a dispatcher in Utah, Bonnell-Hall suffers from schizophrenia and told his psychologist the voices in his head were telling him to kill people in New Mexico who were using magic to hurt him. Law enforcement in Utah located Bonnell-Hall outside a grocery store in Spanish Fork with weapons and ammunition in his vehicle.

Attempted murder from 500 miles away

Bonnell-Hall was arrested and booked into the Utah county jail for multiple charges including:

• Possession of a deadly weapon with criminal intent, a class A misdemeanor according to Utah Code 76-10-507; and

• Four counts of attempted murder, each a first degree felony despite the fact that Bonnell-Hall was still over 500 miles away from those he allegedly planned on killing.

There is a possibility that Bonnell-Hall may face more charges including those on a federal level since his crime encompassed three different states. It is not known if the Tribal Police of the Coeur d’Alene reservation will be also add any additional charges at this time.

Substantial step toward the crime

While Bonnell-Hall still had nine hours of drive time left before his planned victims would have been in immediate physical danger, he voiced a threat of violence or death and made steps towards carrying out that threat such as already being halfway to his destination and crossing state lines while in possession of firearms and ammunition. Utah Code 76-4-101 states: “… a person is guilty of an attempt to commit a crime if he:

a) engages in conduct constituting a substantial step toward commission of the crime; and

b) (i) intends to commit the crime; or

(ii) when causing a particular result is an element of the crime, he acts with an awareness that his conduct is reasonably certain to cause that result.”

Doctor/patient confidentiality

While the general public is happy that someone who was a threat to others and possibly himself is off the street, the concern with the breach of doctor and patient privacy or the seeming disregard of HIPPA rules cannot be ignored. The easy answer to this breech of patient privacy could be due to the fact that the healthcare professional was on the tribal reservation, which falls out of state and federal jurisdiction and is therefore not expected to uphold to the same restrictions. Had that same healthcare professional been within Utah State jurisdiction however, surprisingly it would have been the same result.

Protect patient privacy unless…

Utah Code 58-61-602 begins by issuing strict guidelines protecting patient privacy. It reads: “A psychologist . . . may not disclose any confidential communication with a client or patient without the express consent of: the client or patient; the parent or legal guardian of a minor client or patient; or the authorized agent of a client or patient.” That same section goes on to note however that there are instances where “the psychologist is permitted or required by state or federal law, rule, regulation, or order to report or disclose any confidential communication . . . “. This includes when the information pertains to the “abuse, neglect or exploitation of a vulnerable adult”, “child abuse or neglect “, “communicable disease”, or if it falls under the “limitations of therapist’s duty to warn” found in 78B-3-502 which reads:

(1) A therapist has no duty to warn or take precautions to provide protection from any violent behavior of his client or patient, except when that client or patient communicated to the therapist an actual threat of physical violence against a clearly identified or reasonably identifiable victim. That duty shall be discharged if the therapist makes reasonable efforts to communicate the threat to the victim, and notifies a law enforcement officer or agency of the threat.”

That section protects a therapist for breeching privacy laws by stating:

(2) An action may not be brought against a therapist for breach of trust or privilege, or for disclosure of confidential information, based on a therapist’s communication of information to a third party in an effort to discharge his duty in accordance with Subsection 1. . .”

Since Bonnell-Hall told his counselor that he planned to kill specific people, the counselor then had enough information to alert the authorities in an effort to try and protect the potential victims. Although sessions with a counselor or psychologist should be private and even disturbing things said during that time are kept private, if the counselor feels there is a specific threat to a person or persons, they are obligated to report it. For more information on when doctor patient information can be used against a defendant in court, contact a criminal defense attorney.