California, particularly the area around Los Angeles, has historically had an awful reputation regarding law enforcement interactions with citizens and high incarceration numbers. Therefore, it is also no surprise that California has some of the highest rates of mental illness and a lack of vital mental health services in the U.S. Those facing criminal charges and who have a mental illness should know their rights before being subject to California’s criminal justice system.
Contact a Los Angeles mental health attorney at the Simmrin Law Group for help.
Mental Illness in California
Recent data has shown a dramatic spike in mental health-related incarcerations and a need for more robust criminal justice advocacy for the mentally ill. For example, based on data compiled by the Rand Corporation, researchers found rising levels of mental illness in the L.A. County Jail:
- In 2018, out of the average daily jail population (17,024), 5,111 detainees (30%) took some form of prescribed psychotropic medication—an increase from 14% reported in 2009.
- Between 2010 through 2015, the number of cases where the criminal defendant was incompetent to stand trial increased by 350%.
- Approximately 3,800 detainees, or 67% of the jail’s total population, suffering from mental health-related issues were eligible for mental health diversion.
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Mental Health Diversion
As mental health continues to rise in notoriety as a dire public health crisis, more states have been passing new laws and adopting various programs to help the mentally ill without subjecting them to harsh punishment for criminal wrongdoing. For example, California’s Mental Health Diversion Program diverts eligible criminal defendants to mental health treatment instead of incarceration. Once completed, program participants will have their pending criminal charges dropped.
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Benefits of Mental Health Diversion
Mental health diversion achieves two incredibly vital goals. First, diversion helps those with debilitating mental illnesses obtain the necessary treatment to alleviate their illness’s symptoms. Second, it provides an opportunity for the struggling with this disease to avoid criminal and civil penalties that have a lasting impact.
Not only do those suffering from mental illness face cruel and harmful conditions when incarcerated, but they also live with the consequences of a criminal record. For example, in California, convicted felons cannot, and felons on parole may not obtain specific professional licenses, vote, own a firearm, obtain certain government benefits, and often have difficulty finding gainful employment. Upon the successful competition of a mental health diversion program, the pending criminal charge is dismissed, and the charge will be sealed in most cases.
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Eligibility for Mental Health Diversion
To be eligible for mental health diversion, a criminal defendant must meet the following criteria:
Diagnosis of a Qualifying Mental Illness
California defendants must be diagnosed with a mental illness found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the national standard for classifying mental illnesses. Qualifying mental illnesses include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and PTSD. Usually, the court will order court-approved mental health and conduct a psych evaluation to determine the defendant’s mental health status.
Mental Illness’s Impact on the Crime
The criminal defendant must produce evidence that their mental illness played a significant role in their crime, which be done through eye-witness testimony, police reports, and preliminary hearing transcripts.
Waiver of Rights
The criminal defendant must waive their Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. Because of the prolonged nature of the program, criminal proceedings may occur until well after what is constitutionally allowed. In some instances, if a defendant is incompetent to waive their rights, they can petition the court to waive the waiver of rights.
California courts will not approve an order for mental health diversion unless the defendant agrees. Further, the court will weigh whether the defendant is a danger to society by asking the prosecutor and defense attorney to provide a detailed argument before the court.
California law prohibits certain offenders and mentally ill defendants from enrolling in the mental health diversion program. Ineligibility includes:
- Certain mental health disorders: defendants diagnosed with pedophilia or antisocial or borderline personality disorder are ineligible.
- Specific criminal activity: defendants charged with involuntary manslaughter and certain sexually motivated crimes are ineligible. Some eligible violent offenders may be denied based on the circumstances of their case or former criminal background.
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Program Requirements and Duration
Once enrolled, the participant must abide by the entire treatment program. This can include inpatient or outpatient treatment, mandatory psychotherapy, housing, and medication management. Program administrators overseeing patient care during the program will produce regular progress reports on the patient’s status.
Judges have discretion over the total duration of a program, but they can set a minimum of six months to two years for care. Failure to adhere to the program can result in reincarceration and recharge for the original offense.
Generally, California requires the participant to pay for out-of-pocket costs, especially if the participant is seeking a higher level of care. However, L.A.’s overlapping counties have mental health service programs for low-income offenders.
Other Diversion Programs
California also offers additional diversion programs for offenders based on their case circumstances or background. Diversion programs include:
- Military service: eligible criminal defendants with a military background or veteran can seek treatment for PTSD, brain trauma, sexual assault, and other mental illnesses.
- Drug abuse: defendants with a non-violent drug offense and no disqualifying diagnosis or offense in the past five years may be eligible for diversion.
- Misdemeanor offenses: misdemeanors are often some of the best cases to succeed on a motion for drug diversion. Historically, judges are much more lenient on defendants with misdemeanor charges.
Ineligible for Mental Health Diversion
An experienced mental health lawyer in Los Angeles can still advocate for offenders ineligible for the California Mental Health Diversion Program on the offender’s behalf. A trained criminal defense lawyer can provide zealous advocacy to ensure a criminal defendant is represented correctly.
Client services include:
- Comprehensive case evaluation
- Development of a legal strategy based on the client’s wishes
- Discovery of relevant documents, eye-witness testimony, police reports, body-camera and surveillance footage, and digital information
- Procure expert witness testimony
- Representation at all pre-trial hearings
- Representation during all plea-bargaining discussions
- Trial preparation and execution
- Jury selection
- Post-trial appellate advocacy
Call a Los Angeles Mental Health Lawyer Today
At the Simmrin Law Group, we understand that individuals with a mental illness are not always in the right state of mind, and we want to help if you have been charged with a crime. A Los Angeles mental health attorney will investigate the charges against you and work to defend you in court today.