Mental Health Court. A Washington Criminal Defense Lawyer | Attorney’s Perspective.
Knowing what options are available to best serve each of our clients is essential to achieving the best results possible. In unique circumstances, we have found Mental Health Court to be an effective and rational solution to clients and families who struggle with a mental health disorder in today’s underfunded and destabilized mental health system. As criminal defense attorneys | lawyers, we know all too well how much mental health issues have been shifted to the criminal system, jail and convictions. We have spent many nights making sure a local jail knows the list of medications our clients need to keep them relatively stable and safe.
In general, the criminal court system was never designed to handle offenders with mental health issues: at best it can warehouse them; however, it does a terrible job of treating them. Without some sort of training in mental health as well as consistent interaction with the same personnel, it is hard to expect those struggling with mental health issues to improve or at least remain stable in this environment. The same goes for judges and probation officers: in reacting to the troubles of a mentally ill person, it is hundreds of times easier if you have a history with them, you have some basic training and personnel are given a lighter caseload to deal with
Mental Health Court
There are 10 mental health courts operating in Washington with hopes that that number will grow. The majority of these mental health courts deal only in lower level crimes though plea deals that drop serious felonies down to “qualifying” charges can, and do, happen. Referrals to mental health court can come from prosecutors, judges or a criminal defense attorney | lawyer.
How do you qualify for Mental Health Court?
The most important factors for qualifying for the mental health court are: (1) the criminal problem must be primarily and clearly driven by a severe and persistent mental illness or mental disorder, (2) this mental health disorder must be the primary diagnosis (for example, one cannot primarily have a substance abuse problem) (3) potential “clients” must be willing to take, and have a history of taking, their medication, (4) they must be “amenable” to treatment. What is amendable? This discussion of what is considered amenable is best done at length with our criminal defense attorneys who are familiar with the program; but, by way of example, look at the qualifying form for King County District Court to get an idea of what this means.
How does Mental Health Court work?
In short, the Court does all it can to make sure its “clients” get the same judge and probation officer who have experience and training dealing with the mentally ill. The probation officers run a lighter calendar and caseload than usual to afford them the additional time to handle these kinds of cases. Mental Health Court cases will generally include a higher level of court “meetings” as well as the maximum periods of monitored probation to assure compliance. The idea is that constant and consistent interactions with the same personnel and group drives this program.
Why is this program not for everyone with a mental health disorder?
Aside from the obvious answer, which is funding, the truth is that some criminal offenders with mental health problems are not amenable to treatment or are too violent to deal with in this court. Our criminal defense attorneys | lawyers believe that this program is best suited for a very specific type of case and personality who has been pulled into the criminal system and we will only recommend or help clients qualify for this program after lengthy and detailed discussions with our client and their family. Sometimes this is not the best option.
Mental health court is not the answer to every situation, nor does it promise to stabilize clients’ lives. What it does provide is another potential tool that can help with the difficult situation of mental health and criminal law. Here is Seattle’s summary of state resources as well as an article by the PI that gives further insight into the dynamics of Mental Health Court to get an idea of what this program can do and what it is like.
The criminal defense lawyers | attorneys in our office have handled a wide variety of complicated cases in the criminal arena over the course of our lengthy criminal law careers. We are interested and experienced in helping clients and families pursue sentencing alternatives under the right set of facts and will fight vigorously to achieve the right result. We are a unique blend of courtroom experience, knowledge, skills and temperament. Our lawyers know criminal cases are rarely as simple as the police reports claim and our clients hire us because they want staunch and effective counsel who takes the time to make sure their rights are protected. Whether our role is as legal counsel, negotiator, or litigator, we have years of experience fighting and resolving cases with our clients’ best interests in mind.