Who Qualifies for Mental Health Diversion in California?
While being charged with a crime is a stressful experience for any person, it can be all the more terrifying to face unexpected charges as a result of a mental health condition. Mental illnesses can have a direct and substantial impact on criminal proceedings in California.
While many people know that mental health can impact or incite criminal activity, far fewer understand the reality of the issue: punishing mentally ill individuals for behaviors beyond their control won't solve the underlying problem. Sadly, mental health conditions have been overrepresented in the U.S. criminal justice system for many years.
In 2020, 21% of U.S. adults experienced mental health conditions compared to 64% of jail inmates, 54% of state prisoners, and 45% of federal prisoners. Many mentally ill individuals kept behind bars are repeatedly penalized when they fail to reintegrate into society, an impossible transition without proper rehabilitation to manage their symptoms and readjust to life outside a prison cell.
Keep reading to learn more about the Mental Health Diversion program in California and how it can help attorneys defend those impacted by mental health conditions.
What Is California’s Mental Health Diversion Program?
In June 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB-1810 into law, approving a pretrial diversion process for defendants who suffer from a mental illness. The legislation was codified under California Penal Code § 1001.36, officially establishing California’s Mental Health Diversion program.
The program was established to provide an alternative to traditional criminal sentencing for defendants affected by mental illnesses. The goal of Mental Health Diversion is to address the underlying mental health issues that may have contributed to the offense in hopes of reducing recidivism and increasing the rate of successful rehabilitation.
In other words, the law offers defendants an opportunity to receive the rehabilitative treatment they truly need to recover and resolve underlying health problems, rather than sentencing them to jail or prison—penalties unlikely to improve their condition and quality of life.
Who Qualifies for Mental Health Diversion in CA?
To qualify for Mental Health Diversion, a defendant must meet the following criteria:
- They must have a diagnosed mental health condition or developmental disability;
- The mental health condition must have played a significant role in the offense;
- The defendant must agree to participate in Mental Health Diversion; and
- The defendant must not pose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.
If a defendant meets these criteria, they can apply for Mental Health Diversion through their defense attorney.
The Process of Mental Health Diversion
Once a defendant is deemed qualified for Mental Health Diversion, they must agree to comply with the terms of the program. These terms include (but aren’t limited to):
- Medication management
- Substance abuse treatment
- Participation in support groups
The defendant may also be required to attend court hearings to update the court on their progress. If the defendant successfully completes the terms of the program, the charges against them will be dismissed, and they will not have a criminal record for the offense.
Navigating Mental Health Diversion
The Mental Health Diversion process can be overwhelming. Fortunately, there are steps that defendants can take to prepare for what lies ahead:
- Hiring the right criminal defense attorney – Hiring representation is nonnegotiable in criminal court to obtain a successful outcome. While there are many options for criminal defense representation, it’s imperative to hire the right attorney for your case—ideally one with extensive experience in Mental Health Diversion and an in-depth understanding of criminal law in California.
- Communicate honestly with mental health professionals – It’s crucial for defendants to speak honestly about their condition and the impact it has had on their lives, in addition to their treatment history. about your condition and treatment history.
- Keep an open mind – While there are numerous benefits to qualifying for Mental Health Diversion, it’s important to not lose sight of the primary goal: to improve your health, develop a plan for your recovery, and work toward a better quality of life free of criminal punishment. To accomplish this, it’s essential to keep an open mind, such as attending therapy and support groups with an open mind and committing to personal goals.
- Keep track of court dates and comply with the terms of the program – This is arguably the most important best practice when it comes to Mental Health Diversion. It's crucial to comply with all terms and guidelines of the program to avoid losing your opportunity to participate. Your attorney can help you keep track of important court dates, stay on top of deadlines, and manage required paperwork and forms to maintain good standing in the program.
Keep in mind that Mental Health Diversion is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. The terms of the program can be strict, and noncompliance can result in termination from the program and potential conviction. However, the benefits of successful completion can be life-changing, providing individuals with the resources and support they need to manage their mental health and find a path to success.
Contact Our Nationally-Renowned Criminal Defense Lawyer
At the Law Office of Nabiel C. Ahmed, we exclusively focus on defending the accused in the East Bay Area. With thousands of criminal cases handled and over a decade of legal experience, our nationally-renowned criminal defense attorney is well-equipped to represent Californians in a variety of cases, from sex crimes to DUI charges.
While it can be daunting to be charged with a crime, we strongly believe that everyone deserves a second chance. Regardless of the charges against you, our award-winning criminal defense lawyer can fight tirelessly to obtain a favorable outcome on your behalf. Call (510) 907-6600 today to learn how our firm can help represent your best interests and guide your steps wisely from start to finish.
If you’ve been charged with a crime in California, it’s imperative to secure legal representation as soon as possible. Contact us online to discuss your case with the Bay Area’s top criminal defense attorney.