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Similar to other specialized court systems, such as drug courts and veteran’s courts, California’s Behavioral Health court program is an alternative to navigating the criminal justice system for people with behavioral health problems. Behavioral health courts were developed in response to the inability of traditional courts to address a defendant’s underlying mental illness.
Behavioral health courts are designed to bridge systems and agencies. The criminal justice system was not designed to provide mental health treatment. Rather its primary purpose is to ensure public safety, promote justice, punish, and prevent criminal behavior. The mental health system, in contrast, focuses on the treatment of public health, mental illness, and harm reduction. Behavioral or mental health courts attempt to coordinate these responses under the purview of the courts, so each system fulfills its duty and produces the best possible outcomes for people with mental illness.
How Do Behavioral Health Court Programs Work?
The court alone does not comprise a comprehensive treatment for a defendant. Instead, behavioral health courts (BHC) motivate individuals to connect to community-based treatment services while the court monitors their progress and ensures public safety. In general, behavioral health court program participants are identified through mental health screening and assessments and voluntarily participate in a judicially supervised treatment plan developed by the court and mental health professionals. The goal of a behavioral health court program is to:
- Connect criminal defendants with serious mental illness to treatment services
- Find dispositions to the defendant’s criminal charges that consider their mental illness
- Ensure public safety by decreasing recidivism through appropriate mental health treatment and intensive supervision
- Increase collaboration between the court, counsel, city agencies, and community mental health services
These factors support rehabilitation of those with mental illnesses and help keep the cycle from continuing.
How Does One Qualify for Participation in a Behavioral Health Court Program?
Participation in a BHC program is voluntary, and in many circumstances does not require the defendant to plead guilty to criminal charges to enter the program. To qualify for participation in a BHC program, the defendant must:
- Be diagnosed with an Axis I mental health disorder
- Must be considered suitable for treatment
- Must agree to treatment
Additionally, the gravity of the charges against the defendant must be considered before the defendant can enter a BHC program. To be considered for BHC, a defendant must be charged with, convicted of, or on probation for a misdemeanor or felony offense where their mental health led to the offense. Before being determined eligible for BHC, the defendant’s prior criminal and treatment history are also considered. As defined by the Penal Code section 1192.7(c1), defendants charged with the following are not eligible for BHC without the District Attorney’s consent:
- Domestic violence misdemeanor or felony offenses
- Elder abuse misdemeanor or felony offenses
- Weapon misdemeanor or felony offenses
Other charges such as murder and sex offense crimes will likely disqualify a defendant from participating in a BHC. If the defendant is eligible for BHC and is willing to receive treatment, they must also willingly sign a release of information for details on their mental health history.
Contact Dod Law for Trusted Legal Representation When Facing Criminal Charges Resulting from Mental Illness
People struggling with severe mental illness may make mistakes that don’t need to define their whole life. Attorney Dod Ghassemkhani at Dod Law, APC is dedicated to helping individuals with mental disorders in California when they face criminal charges resulting from symptoms of their illness. As a skilled and qualified criminal defense attorney, he can help you review your charges and determine whether you are eligible for the behavioral health court program. If you are a person facing criminal charges due to a mental health disorder, contact Dod Law using our contact form or give us a call at (619) 814-5110.