Understanding Mental Health Diversion: Our Firm's Solutions for Clients Facing Mental Illness

Written by: Doug Ridley

Pretrial Diversion Options for Individuals with a Diagnosable Mental Health Disorder

The United States is in the midst of a mental health crisis. Millions of people suffer from undiagnosed mental health disorders, yet few receive the treatment that they need. Too many of these people end up incarcerated for crimes that they committed as a result of a treatable condition. 

At Ridley Defense, we are committed to helping individuals with underlying mental health disorders understand their rights after they are charged with a criminal offense. Attorney Doug Ridley has been heavily involved in Ventura County’s Mental Health Diversion Program. He was selected to represent the private defense bar as part of the committee tapped to sculpt the county’s innovative program. 

This program is designed to divert defendants suffering from mental health disorders from the criminal courts and if all conditions are met, ultimately dismiss the criminal charges. If you or a loved one has been charged with a criminal offense that was committed due to a mental health disorder, contact our office for a complimentary consultation.

The Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders in the United States

The number of youths and adults with diagnosable mental health disorders has been increasing in the United States. However, studies show that few resources are available to provide treatment for those that need it most.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness for California:

  • 19% of adults (1 in 5) in the United States experience mental illness every year.
  • 11.4 million people suffer from serious mental illness each year.
  • 7.2% of U.S. adults experience a major depressive episode.
  • Less than half (43%) of adults with a diagnosable mental health disorder receive treatment.
  • Nearly 20% of adults with a mental health disorder also experienced a substance use disorder.
  • An estimated 1 in 6 youth between the ages of 6-17 experience a mental health disorder every year.
  • Individuals with mental health concerns are more likely to be unemployed and drop out of school.

Mental Health and Crime Statistics in California

Over the past decade, there has been a devastating increase in the number of crimes involving people with underlying mental health concerns. 

A study by the California Budget & Policy Center showed that nearly 29% of people incarcerated at the state level in California were receiving mental health care. The study also showed that in the largest jail population in the state (Los Angeles County), an estimated 30% of incarcerated individuals received mental health treatment. 

What Is Mental Health Diversion?

In order to combat the mental health crisis, California lawmakers authorized courts to grant pretrial diversion for defendants suffering from a mental health disorder. Penal Code Section 1001.36 authorizes a court to grant mental health diversion for specific misdemeanor and felony offenses committed by an individual.

If all conditions of diversion are met, including successful participation and completion in a mental health treatment program, the court is able to dismiss the criminal charges against the offender. If you believe that you are eligible for mental health diversion, it is imperative that you discuss your case with an experienced defense attorney.

Who is Eligible for Mental Health Diversion?

Pursuant to Section 1001.36, in order to be eligible for mental health diversion, the court must be satisfied that a defendant suffers from a “mental disorder identified in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” The individual charged with the offense must have a recent diagnosis by a qualified mental health expert.

Senate Bill 215 deemed certain offenses ineligible for pretrial mental health diversion, including:

  • Murder;
  • Voluntary manslaughter;
  • Offenses that require registration under Section 290, excluding indecent exposure;
  • Rape;
  • Lewd or lascivious acts on children under the age of 14;
  • Assault with the intent to commit rape, sodomy, or oral copulation;
  • Rape or sexual penetration in concert with another person;
  • Continuous sexual abuse of a child; or 
  • Violation of Section 11418 (b) or (c).

What Are the Requirements of Mental Health Diversion?

If granted, successful completion of pretrial mental health diversion can result in dismissal of the criminal charges and sealing of the arrest record. However, an individual must meet all of the criteria to be granted diversion under this code section.

Requirements of mental health diversion include:

  • Satisfying the court that you have an eligible and recently diagnosed mental health disorder. Individuals suffering from antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and pedophilia do not qualify for pretrial diversion through Section 1001.36.
  • Satisfying the court that your mental health disorder was a significant factor in the commission of the offense.
  • An opinion provided by a qualified mental health expert that you would respond to treatment.
  • Consenting to diversion and waiving your right to a speedy trial.
  • Satisfying the court that you do not pose an unreasonable risk to public safety if treated in the community.
  • Satisfactory compliance and completion of an inpatient or outpatient mental health treatment program as approved by the court.
  • Treatment must be completed within a two-year period.

An individual may be disqualified from mental health diversion if they are charged with an additional misdemeanor offense that shows a propensity toward violence or a felony.

Ventura County’s Mental Health Diversion Program

Shortly after the passage of the 2018 law, Ventura County put together a team of stakeholders to implement a mental health diversion program in the county. Attorney Douglas Ridley was selected to represent the private defense bar. 

Mr. Ridley, alongside leaders from the District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Superior Court, Ventura County Probation Agency, and Behavioral Health Department, helped to develop a comprehensive plan and successfully launch Ventura County’s Mental Health Diversion Program. Mr. Ridley currently sits as the only private attorney on the Mental Health Diversion Board.

Proudly Representing Those Who Have Served

At Ridley Defense, we are honored to represent those who have served or are currently serving in the military. Mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) plague many of our service members. 

If you are a veteran facing criminal charges, you may be eligible for pretrial diversion. Contact our office as soon as possible for a complimentary and confidential consultation. We are proud to offer our military veterans discounts in gratitude for their service.

Contact Our Office Today

Our legal team is dedicated to helping individuals suffering from a mental health disorder understand their rights. We not only can provide you the superior legal representation you deserve, but we can also get you the resources and services you need. Even if an individual is not eligible for a mental health diversion, this aspect of your case can play heavily on the overall outcome. We have worked with prosecutors and judges to mirror elements of the Mental Health Diversion in regular criminal cases to reduce the outcome . Ridley Defense’s expertise on this topic can be a key component of a successful resolution.

Successful completion of mental health diversion can result in the dismissal of your criminal charges. Call (805) 208-1866 to find out more or fill out our online contact form to speak directly with an attorney.

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