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Mental Health Treatment vs. Incarceration

It’s a common misconception that if someone committed a crime, they would be convicted and their punishment is a fine, probation, community service, or jail time. However, if someone who committed the offense has struggled with mental health issues, they have more options. California judges can choose to help criminal defendants with mental illness obtain the treatment they need instead of traditional penalties and criminal records.

Mental Health Diversion

Claims of insanity can drastically change the way a criminal charge and hearing proceed. In California, Penal Code 1001.36 includes the following verbiage:

(b) (1) Pretrial diversion may be granted pursuant to this section if all of the following criteria are met:

(A) The court is satisfied that the defendant suffers from a mental disorder as identified in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, including, but not limited to, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder, but excluding antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and pedophilia. Evidence of the defendant’s mental disorder shall be provided by the defense and shall include a recent diagnosis by a qualified mental health expert. In opining that a defendant suffers from a qualifying disorder, the qualified mental health expert may rely on an examination of the defendant, the defendant’s medical records, arrest reports, or any other relevant evidence.

(B) The court is satisfied that the defendant’s mental disorder was a significant factor in the commission of the charged offense. A court may conclude that a defendant’s mental disorder was a significant factor in the commission of the charged offense if, after reviewing any relevant and credible evidence, including, but not limited to, police reports, preliminary hearing transcripts, witness statements, statements by the defendant’s mental health treatment provider, medical records, records or reports by qualified medical experts, or evidence that the defendant displayed symptoms consistent with the relevant mental disorder at or near the time of the offense, the court concludes that the defendant’s mental disorder substantially contributed to the defendant’s involvement in the commission of the offense.

(C) In the opinion of a qualified mental health expert, the defendant’s symptoms of the mental disorder motivating the criminal behavior would respond to mental health treatment.

Mental health diversion is a unique program specifically in California. It offers a beneficial and constructive alternative to incarceration. Increasing support and awareness of these programs is important to help mentally ill individuals who have struggled or fallen into the criminal defense system. At times, even those who appear sane but are accused of a crime can begin to develop mental incapacitation symptoms.

Inmates with Mental Health Illnesses

The American Psychological Association shares a heart-breaking story about Jamycheal Mitchell. Jaymycheal was arrested for petty theft after failing to take his medications. Not being placed in a proper mental health facility, he was left waiting in jail for his due process. His condition deteriorated quickly, and within four months, Jamycheal sadly passed away due to a heart attack from a combination of mental neglect and extreme weight loss.

It’s these terrible stories that drive us here at Lessem, Newstat, and Tooson. We are strong advocates for those with mental illnesses, and we are prepared to help defendants and their families through these situations. If Jaymycheal had a mental health attorney advocating for his rights, we wonder if his story would have ended differently.

Alternative Treatments

In place of jail time, someone who enters an insanity plea has alternative treatment options. These options will be determined by the mental health courts or judge, or by a doctor. Their hearing may be invoked, and a sentence of not guilty may be issued. It’s important to note that a sanity hearing is quite different than a typical trial. Having a legal team on your side who is experienced with these types of hearings can make or break your case.

The alternative option to a fine, probation, community service, or jail time, is being sentenced to a mental health facility. Individuals can then be able to receive treatment instead of punishment. Our attorneys at Lessem, Newstat, and Tooson have helped hundreds of individuals get into the programs they need instead of prison.

Restoration of Sanity

After an individual is found not guilty by reason of insanity and spent some time at a mental health facility receiving treatment, there may become a time when they feel they have recovered and are fit to be released back into the community. Proving that one’s sanity is restored can sometimes be a complicated process, but we’re here to help you through this process.

A mental health lawyer can help you achieve a favorable court ruling. Suppose the mental health facility and a doctor can show the court that an individual’s overall well-being and mental health have improved. In that case, you can begin the process of requesting a release from the facility.

Mental Health Defense Attorneys

Our lawyers at Lessem, Newstat & Tooson have hundreds of court case dismissals and over 50 years of combined courtroom experience. We have built our practice around the belief that the best outcomes are usually achieved when the prosecution knows that the defense is both ready and willing to pursue the matter at the trial level. Sanity hearings and pleading guilty by reason of insanity are entirely different from a typical, not guilty plea. These matters require an entirely separate court hearing to determine the defendant’s sanity and having a lawyer who understands and has been through this process can help.

Our mental health attorneys are here to help. If you or a loved one are considering pleading not guilty by insanity, contact our experienced team for help. Contact our offices today to learn more or schedule your consultation with our team.