Concerns over mental health have skyrocketed in recent years. In past generations, mental health was brushed under the rug or dismissed entirely as an incidental nuisance facing those that could not handle life’s stress. However, these days, mental health is rightfully seen as a cornerstone of numerous public health issues worthy of being addressed by our nation’s healthcare systems.
Unfortunately, many suffering from mental health issues often seeks treatment during or after a negative interaction with law enforcement. Understanding the implications of law enforcement’s role in addressing the mentally ill can help those suffering from mental illness can have a positive impact on those interactions and potentially reduce or avoid criminal penalties.
Definition of Mental Illness
Unlike other fields of medicine, mental health has one of the broadest variety of illnesses, disorders, and disabilities that can impact a person’s physical, mental, emotional, behavioral, intellectual, social, and cognitive abilities. According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), mental illness can be defined under two categories: Any Mental Illness (AMI) or Serious Mental Illness (SMI).
Any Mental Illness (AMI)
AMI is a disorder impacting a person’s mental, behavioral, or emotional status. AMI can include mild, moderate, and severe impairment. Common examples of AMI include:
- Anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
- Mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder.
- Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.
- Eating disorders like Bielema and anorexia.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Serious Mental Illness (SMI)
SMI is a subset of AMI but focuses on the severity of a mental illness’s impact on the person. SMI may include one of the above illnesses but substantially interferes with one or more major life activities and can completely debilitate a person’s ability to perform typical daily functions or interact in civil society.
Substance Use Disorder (SUD)
SUD is a person using a controlled substance (alcohol, drugs, and prescription medication) because of dependency issues, self-medication, or both. SUD can be classified as a mental disorder, but according to the NIMH, it is often accompanied by one or more other mental illnesses.
Although researchers have found that SUD is common amongst mentally ill persons, the existence of SUD does not necessarily mean a person also has a mental illness or vice versa. However, researchers have determined three instances when both SUD and AMI or SMI occur in a person:
- Common risk factors: both conditions can be passed between generations and/or develop through traumatic or stressful environments during early childhood development through adulthood.
- Mental illness contributing to SUD: researchers have found that mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and PTSD can prompt persons to self-medicate.
- SUD contributing to mental illness: prolonged abuse of controlled substances can change the chemical balance in a person’s brain, rendering them susceptible to specific mental illnesses that can develop through adulthood.
For a free legal consultation with a mental health lawyer serving San Diego, call (310) 928-9347
California’s Growing Mental Health Crisis
It is no surprise to many that in California, like many states grappling with this stage of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic, the public has experienced a significant uptick in reporting mental health-related illnesses and issues. Based on 2021 data collected by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the dramatic rise in mental illnesses in California is staggering:
- Approximately 5.5 million adults in the State of California report suffering from a mental illness or mental health condition.
- Approximately 396,000 minors in California, between the ages of 12 and 17, have depression.
- Roughly two (2) out of every five (5) adults jailed in California suffer from “serious mental illness.”
- Roughly seven (7) out of every ten (10) minor children currently in juvenile detainment suffer from a mental health condition.
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How a Mental Health Lawyer in San Diego Can Help
A San Diego mental health lawyer can help a criminal defendant struggling with mental illness have their underlying condition treated while navigating the complexities of the California criminal justice system.
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California’s Mental Health Diversion Law
California currently operates one of the country’s most extensive mental health diversion programs. Mental health diversion allows eligible criminal defendants to defer criminal penalties for alleged criminal wrongdoing because of a mental illness. This allows a person suffering from a mental health condition to obtain treatment instead of punishment.
To be eligible for mental health diversion, a person must be accused of committing a misdemeanor or felony. Once charged, the accused legal counsel will petition the court to enroll the defendant in the program. Before enrollment, a criminal defendant must be given a court-ordered psych evaluation to determine if the defendant suffers from a mental illness.
A finding of a mental illness is not enough to be eligible for mental health diversion. Instead, the offender must be able to show that the crime was committed because they have a mental illness. For example, if someone has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was arrested for property damage resulting from a hallucination (a common disease symptom), they would likely be eligible. However, a person claiming to feel depressed after a DUI ticket will likely not be eligible.
Mental health diversion includes in- or out-patient treatment, psychotherapy, medication management, and counseling. Programs typically last from six months to a maximum of two years. Failure to complete a court-approved mental health diversion program can result in being recharged for the initial offense. In addition, by law, the court must receive periodic progress reports from the mental health diversion program provider.
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Addressing Criminal Allegations
An experienced San Diego mental health diversion attorney can represent a criminal defendant’s interests in court for those ineligible for mental health diversion or choose to forgo that process. Mental health criminal defense attorneys offer a wide range of services to ensure adequate representation and zealous advocacy.
Although some may not be eligible for diversion programs, many California courts consider a criminal defendant’s struggle with mental illness or substance abuse. In some instances, courts will issue a reduced sentence for defendants suffering from these positions and encourage the use of public services to seek treatment.
During pre-trial proceedings, a mental health criminal defense attorney can counsel clients on the best legal strategy to win their case or reduce potential criminal liability. Services include:
- Representation at arraignment and other court proceedings.
- Gathering relevant evidence
- Conducting witness interviews
- Filing pre-trial evidentiary motions
- Obtaining expert witnesses
- Negotiating plea bargain agreements with prosecutors
- Jury selection
- Trial preparation
Reach Out to a San Diego Mental Health Attorney Today
If you have a mental illness but have been charged with a crime, the team at the Simmrin Law Group is ready to help. Please contact a mental health attorney in San Diego for help immediately. We want to make sure you are properly defended at all times. We want to help today.