blog home Criminal Defense Options if You’re Facing Charges with Mental Illness

Options if You’re Facing Charges with Mental Illness

By San Diego Attorney on April 20, 2023

Shot of a young woman experiencing mental illness against a black background

If you are accused of a crime, your San Diego criminal defense attorney may ask you to get a psychiatric evaluation to determine your true frame of mind when the alleged act was committed. This could have a significant bearing on how your case will proceed.

Your attorney might choose to seek a pretrial diversion. This would allow you to complete a psychological treatment plan in lieu of criminal proceedings and jail time. When the terms of the plan are completed, the charges against you will be dismissed.

If a defendant did not have the mental capacity to know their actions were wrong, their attorney may recommend that they plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Defendants who are found not guilty by reason of insanity may be sent to a state mental institution instead of serving a prison sentence.

What Is Mental Health Diversion?

California has a pretrial diversion program that allows certain defendants to enter a treatment program when they’ve been accused of a crime. Your attorney can request a diversion program before your trial begins.

To qualify for diversion, the defendant must demonstrate that they suffer from an affliction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). People with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and veterans and others with PTSD are all eligible.

There are some mental health disorders that don’t qualify for diversion, including pedophilia, antisocial personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder. When considering a

request for diversion, the judge will take various factors into account, including the severity of the offense and if there’s a history of violence.

The following conditions must be met for a mental health diversion program:

  • The disorder played a role in the charges against you.
  • You agree to waive your rights to a speedy trial.
  • A mental health expert believes you will respond positively to treatment.
  • Sex crimes and violent crimes are not eligible.
  • You must agree to treatment.
  • The court doesn’t find you to be an unreasonable threat to public safety.

Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity

A person cannot be convicted of a crime if they were not aware that they were committing an immoral act. If a mental defect or disease such as schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder prevents a person from comprehending the nature of their actions, then their lawyer may recommend entering a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

The so-called insanity plea is rare. According to one study, it’s used in less than 1 percent of criminal trials.

California requires a separate arraignment to determine if the defendant is able to stand trial. During a sanity hearing, the burden of proof is on the defendant.

If the jury unanimously decides that the defendant was not sane when they committed the crime, then the defendant cannot be found guilty. But the defendant can be forced to undergo treatment at a mental health facility. They may be held as long as they are diagnosed with mental disease or disorder and deemed to be a substantial threat to harm others.

To be declared not guilty by reason of insanity, the defendant must demonstrate the following:

  • Their actions resulted from a mental disease or defect.
  • They were diagnosed by a qualified mental health expert within the previous 5 years.
  • A preponderance of evidence supports their plea.
  • They didn’t understand the nature of their actions, or they didn’t know it was wrong when they committed the offense.

Fighting to Protect Your Freedom

For over 30 years, our team at jD Law Criminal Defense Attorneys has been successfully defending clients. Our founder James Dicks is one of only 30 Board Certified Criminal Law Specialists in San Diego County.

Call (760) 630-2000 to learn more today.

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