Mental Health and the Criminal Justice System

Clearwater Criminal Defense Lawyers Defending The Accused

For too long, the focus of our nation’s politics and policies has focused on combating issues like drug addiction and mental health through the criminal justice system. A huge percentage of criminal offenses arise because people are suffering from addiction or other mental health issues which naturally and unfortunately leads to encounters with law enforcement. In recent years, and under pressure from the pubic, our criminal justice system has started to realize and fix these problems. Thankfully, diversion programs and mental health treatment have become more widely available for criminal defendants. If you or a loved one has been charged with a criminal offense related to mental health, you should contact a dedicated Clearwater criminal defense attorney today.

Like it or not, Florida’s jails have become one of the largest mental health service providers. This is not a trend that should continue. At their heart, jails exist only to punish their inmates and keep people that the State considers dangerous off of the streets. They are not properly equipped to aid our mental health population. Some, even family members of the accused, believe that a stint in jail might be good for someone suffering from addiction or mental health issues. The truth is that jail is one of the worst places for that and being in jail can exacerbate the troubles a person already has. Hire a skilled attorney in order to secure your loved one’s release from custody.

Competency Evaluations

One issue that often arises when dealing with defendants suffering from mental health issues is competency to stand trial. Competency is not merely a mental health related issue, but encompasses several legal aspects as well. Competency to stand trial is also not limited to mental health issues, but can arise from physical health issues as well. Competency is a combined mental health and legal standard that courts use to determine if a person has the capacity and understanding to stand trial.

Courts take into account several factors to determine someone’s competency to stand trial. Some critical factors are whether a person understands and appreciates that charges being brought against him or her, whether the defendant understands the potential minimum and maximum penalties for the alleged crime and whether the person understands the roles of the defense attorney, prosecutor and judge. Beyond the defendant’s understanding of those issues, the court must also consider whether the defendant would be able to effectively disclose information to his or her lawyer and whether the defendant would be able to behave appropriately in court.

If a court finds that a person is not competent to stand trial, several options arise. In misdemeanor cases, a finding of incompetency usually results in the dismissal of the case. For felonies, the procedure is more complicated. Often courts will order some sort of treatment or competency restoration. However, if competency is not restored within a five year period, a felony case might be dismissed as well.

Diversion Programs

As society starts to realize more and more the realities of the mental health problems we face in the criminal justice system, our criminal justice institutions have begun to change to reflect our progressing understanding. Instead of simply using the criminal justice system to punish those accused of crime, even when mental health is a driving factor, many prosecuting authorities, including the Pinellas State Attorneys office, have begun to introduce mental health diversion programs. Successful participation in such diversion programs can result in reduced or even dismissed charges. Speak to a dedicated Clearwater Criminal defense lawyer today to find out your options.

Clearwater Criminal Defense Lawyers Here to Serve You

The attorneys at Hanlon Law have a wealth of experience dealing with mental health related criminal cases. If you or a loved one has been charged with a criminal offense and you believe mental health was a contributing factor, call us today at 727-897-5413.