In an effort to address jail overcrowding across California, a bevy of new laws have been passed since 2011. AB 1810, although designed to address Medi-Cal coverage and healthcare licensing fees, contained an important component which may help divert mentally ill defendants into more effective care programs. Mental Health Diversion for All Criminals, as the name implies, allows criminals suffering from psychological disorders to enter pretrial diversion at the judge’s discretion. Domestic violence, theft, and other crimes may qualify with the help of a competent criminal defense attorney.
This component of AB 1810 has no author, and is drawing the ire of citizens and law personnel who believe criminals will be empowered to abuse this new legislation by claiming mental illness when none exists. Prosecutors, for one, want this law scaled back to avoid granting undeserved privileges to criminal acts that normally come with extended sentences.
With an overabundance of low-level criminals remanded to CDC, this law could provide population control and access to programs mentally ill defendants need to remove themselves from California’s growing recidivism statistic.
Treatment Before Due Process
Counties are already given discretion by the state to provide diversion programs to offenders with PTSD, various brain injuries and other mental disorders. Military service personnel often get approved for diversion before other criminals who need similar help.
Under Gov. Brown’s recently signed law, offenders with any degree of mental illness may qualify for pretrial diversion without respect to crimes they are accused of committing. By sending persons to treatment prior to entering the criminal process, California’s hospitals – many with extended waiting lists – will see fewer criminals deemed incompetent to stand trial. Pedophilia and antisocial personality disorders are exempt from this law.
Offenders and defendants who successfully complete their assigned program may qualify to have charges dismissed, provided the judge accepts that their treatment was effective enough to prevent re-offending. Gov. Brown has earmarked $115 over three years to push 850 people through community-based programs regardless of crime.
This is where prosecutors want the line drawn.
Prosecutors Want Safeguards to Prevent Abuse
According to prosecutors who oppose this addition to criminal law, limitations are needed on who this law benefits. Nonviolent misdemeanors and low-level felonies should be the cutoff for diversion, especially when repeat offenders and those who commit violent felonies are dangers to public safety.
One argument is that the 88-page bill was passed in one legislative session, which denied the opportunity for bipartisan opposition. Another is the ease of access given to defense attorneys who can simply ask judges to send their defendants to diversion. Courts have sole discretionary power to deny or object motions for admission into these programs.
Some find that Propositions 47 and 57, along with AB 1810, allow truly guilty persons to cry afoul simply to avoid facing adjudication for crimes committed.
Current negotiations are progressing, although the exact time frame for county prosecutors to see proposed changes enacted, if at all, is unknown.
If you have committed theft, murder, or other crimes and suffer mental disorders, contact James E. Blatt to discuss your legal options. With the ultimate goal of case dismissal, Mr. Blatt has worked similar cases where psychological issues played an instrumental role during the commission of various misdemeanor and felony offenses.
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