An unfortunate reality of the criminal justice system is that a large percentage of people charged with crimes suffer from some sort of mental health issue. For years, our national and state governments have poured money and resources into the criminal justice system to get “tough on crime” while mostly neglecting the country’s growing mental health problems. The results have been predictably negative. More and more people with mental health issues have ended up stuck in a criminal justice system that is not equipped to help them or deal with their specialized needs.
Luckily, in recent years and after public outcry for criminal justice reform, mental health treatment and rehabilitation has become more of a focus in the criminal justice system. Mental health courts and mental health diversion programs have popped up throughout Florida and have had success diverting people suffering from mental health issues out of the criminal system. If you have been charged with a crime and suffer from a mental health related issue, you should contact a compassionate St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney immediately to learn about the options available to you.Competency to Proceed
One of the primary legal questions that arises when serious mental or physical health issues are involved is competency to stand trial. A person who is found not competent to proceed to trial cannot be prosecuted or sentenced for a crime. Such a person must usually also be released from custody in order to obtain court ordered competency restoration treatment. After a period of time, usually five years, if a defendant’s competency cannot be restored, the law requires that the case be dismissed.
In determining someone’s competency to proceed, the court must account for several factors. First, the court must request that a qualified psychologist evaluate the defendant. The expert will report on the defendant’s capacity to understand the charges he or she is facing, to understand the possible penalties that could be handed down upon a conviction, and to understand the nature of the legal process and the role of the courtroom personnel. The court must also consider the defendant’s ability to adequately disclose relevant facts to his or her attorney, to behave properly in the courtroom, and to testify in his or her own defense. A skilled and experienced St. Petersburg Criminal Defense lawyer will be able to determine if you might qualify for this type of evaluation.Mental Health Court & Diversion
Another new development in our court system is the Mental Health Court. Mental health courts were created with the intention of providing treatment to offenders who’s crimes are related to their mental health issues. The government of Florida has realized the jails are ill suited to care for and treat those with mental problems and that creating a mental health treatment program would help to reduce repeat offenses and encourage people in need to get treatment.
The prosecutor’s offices throughout the state have also begun to instituted mental health diversion programs. People charged with criminal offenses related to mental illness might qualify for jail diversion programs if they agree to attend treatment for the illnesses they suffer from. In Pinellas county, the Jail Diversion program enjoys support from both the State Attorney’s office and the Sherriff and has served to increase mental health treatment, reduce recidivism, and save enormous amounts of money formerly spent on housing mentally ill defendants in jails. This new trend of decriminalizing mental illness is a positive one, and if you think that your mental illness contributed to you being charged with a crime, you should contact a dedicated St. Petersburg Criminal Defense lawyer right away to discuss a plan of action.Speak to the Lawers at Hanlon Law
The lawyers at Hanlon Law have years of experience dealing with clients who suffer from mental health problems. We take a compassionate approach and advocate strongly for these clients who should not face criminal charges as a result of mental illness that they cannot control. Call us today at 727.897.5413.