Accused drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán will be visited by a defense psychologist next week who will help determine if his mental deterioration under maximum security jail conditions might threaten his ability to stand trial, his lawyer said at a hearing Wednesday.
Brooklyn U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan approved the meeting but declined to lift the ban on contact visits imposed on Guzmán for his first meeting with the shrink. “There’s no need for a contact visit at this time,” the judge said.
Guzmán’s lawyers have been complaining since his January extradition from Mexico about high-security conditions at the federal jail in Manhattan, which isolate him from other prisoners, limit family visits and keep visitors behind Plexiglas. He escaped twice from Mexican prisons.
Lawyer Eduardo Balarezo told reporters after the hearing he has seen signs of memory loss and other problems after 10 months in isolation, and would use the psychologist’s visit to renew requests for less restrictive conditions “unless they are severe enough that they are affecting his competency.”
In a letter filed late last week, he warned Cogan that mental decline could prevent Guzmán from standing trial if he can’t effectively assist his lawyers in preparing.
“At this time, counsel does not allege that Mr. Guzmán is not competent,” Balarezo said. “Rather, counsel suggests that Mr. Guzmán’s condition may eventually result in a finding of incompetence if it is not addressed soon.”
Guzmán is charged with heading the Sinaloa cartel and using murder and violence to control a drug trafficking enterprise that smuggled 20 tons of cocaine into the United States. His trial is scheduled for April and Cogan scheduled the next hearing in the case for Jan. 19.