St. Joseph Michigan Criminal Defense Blog

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Local Courts Authorized to Create Mental Health Courts

Mental health courts

For many defendants, repeated criminal behavior is a symptom of an underlying mental disability. Local judges and probation officers have struggled to craft elaborate probation orders that address the illness as well as the discipline and safety concerns inherent in any criminal case. But starting in 2014, judges and defendants will have another option.

At the end of 2013, the Michigan Legislature authorized the formation of local mental health courts. Like the drug courts that currently exist in Berrien County and elsewhere, these courts would allow defendants with serious mental illness, serious emotional disturbance or developmental disability, or whose substance abuse is connected with those disabilities, to complete probation including intensive mental health treatment and by doing so avoid conviction or reduce their potential sentence.

Under the new statutes, a defendant charged with a non-violent offense can enter a plea and submit to a screening and mental health evaluation. Based on that evaluation, the judge may accept the defendant into the mental health court. If the judge doesn’t send the defendant to the program, then he or she is allowed to withdraw the plea and nothing that was said in the evaluation regarding drugs or alcohol can be used against him or her at trial.

Once in the program, the defendant will be provided individual, comprehensive treatment and community services including mental health and substance abuse treatment, education, and vocational assistance. On the other hand, the defendant is required to complete all terms of probation, treatment, drug and alcohol tests, and pay fines, costs, fees, and medical treatment expenses (unless doing so would be a financial hardship or interfere with treatment).

If everything goes as planned, the defendant’s charge could be dismissed if the he or she qualifies for one of several second-chance statutes. But if dismissal is not an option, sentencing will still take into account the defendant’s cooperation and success in the program. If the defendant does not complete the program, the failure cannot be held against him or her at sentencing.

Local mental health courts provide structure and options to defendants and courts trying to manage mental illness that causes or impacts his or her mental health difficulties. However, whether each court decides to implement this option remains to be seen. If you need help with criminal charges, call Attorney Peter J. Johnson at 269-982-1100 for a consultation.

*Please note: Every case is different, and there may be some aspect of your particular case which may result in an outcome other than is described above. This post is not intended as legal advice and may not apply to your particular case. It is always best to contact our office for a consultation if you have been or believe you may be charged with a crime.

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