Facing prison time is never a happy moment, and it is the major tenet of the American justice system that punishment for a crime, is intended to be a deterrent. However, in some cases, the individual committing the crime may not have the capacity to truly understand the consequences of his/her actions. Specifically, those with developmental disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, or post-traumatic stress disorder, or those who have mental health problems resulting from military service may not fully comprehend, or in some cases control, their actions.
Consequently, subjecting these individuals to prison may do more harm than good. In fact, such individuals may want to retain an attorney experienced in criminal defense law to ensure they get the most appropriate help.
California has a law that allows certain criminal suspects to be diverted to mental health treatment programs and have their charges dismissed, and, earlier, Governor Brown signed off on an expansion of the suspects that are eligible for this program, to include those with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, and even those who commit serious or violent felonies.
However, recently, various prosecutors have been lobbying the Governor to retract some of this expansion, alleging that this expansion casts too wide a net, and will put dangerous felons back on the street. A discussion of this expansion, as well as the potential for retraction, will follow below.
What is California’s Mental Health Diversion Program?
The law described above allows a criminal defendant suffering from a specified mental disorder to be granted pre-trial diversion for a crime if a judge finds the disorder played a significant role in the crime. In a pre-trial diversion, the criminal trial is stopped for a period of up to two years and, if there is substantial compliance by the defendant with the diversion program and the defendant has not committed a significant crime, the charges will be dismissed, and the records of the arrest and prosecution sealed.
What has angered prosecutors is that the law was expanded to those who have been charged with any crime, and does not take into account any past convictions. Thus, as the prosecutors allege, this law is applicable to murderers, rapists, robbers, child molesters, arsonists, and the like, and does not take into account whether this is the second rape, for example, that the defendant has committed.
Additionally, there is some confusion as to what constitutes a “significant” crime during the two-year diversion program. Finally, prosecutors are wary of the fact that the law allows for eligibility in the diversion program for almost every type of mental health diagnosis. Thus, defendants diagnosed with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia (diagnosis of some serial killers), paraphilia (of which serial rapists are often diagnosed), and depression (associated with mass school shooting murders) would be eligible for diversion.
Based on these concerns, various California prosecutors have been lobbying Assembly members to pass a law curtailing the above-stated issues. Specifically, prosecutors wish to limit the new program to those charged only with misdemeanors or non-serious, non-violent felonies.
A bill had been moving through the Assembly with these limitations, without opposition, and with bipartisan support, but was stopped when the new bill was passed as part of a trailer to a budget bill. Additionally, various newspapers and other media have been advocating for this change, so it does appear that there may be a better than not chance that these restrictions will eventually be added.
Hire A Criminal Defense Attorney
If you, or someone you love, have been charged with a crime, contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Los Angeles law firm Manshoory Law Group, APC as soon as possible. It is vitally important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side, and doing so can truly be the difference between a prison sentence and getting the treatment you need.
We will use our knowledge of criminal law to devise a strategy and present the best case for your or your loved one’s defense. Attorneys are available 24/7 to take your call. Contact us today for an initial consultation.