Hillsborough County Chief Judge Ronald N. Ficarrotta recently signed a new order that allows the Clerk of the Circuit Court to transfer more criminal cases to the Hillsborough County Mental Health Criminal Division “M.” Judge Ficarrotta’s Administrative Order S-2017-036 makes a lot more defendants with mental health issues eligible to have their case transferred to Mental Health Court (MHC), rather than staying in standard court.

If you or a loved one has recently been arrested for or charged with a crime in Hillsborough County, call our office at 727-828-3900 to speak to our defense attorneys about your case. If you qualify, we can try to get your case transferred to division M, which could divert you to treatment rather than being sentenced to jail.

Why did Hillsborough County expand eligibility for Mental Health Court cases?

In 2016, under Judge Ficarrotta’s leadership, Hillsborough County launched a new mental health court. The goal of this new court division is to prevent local jails from becoming holding cells for people with mental illnesses. Rather than being jailed, mentally ill defendants will receive the evaluation and treatment they need to get better and stay out of trouble.

Judge Greg Holder noted on Fox 13, “Unfortunately our jails and our prisons have become a depository for those Floridians who have significant mental health issues and that’s not justice.”

The reason the County wanted to loosen the eligibility standards for MHC is to better set the stage for true justice for those with mental illnesses. This means treatment, not incarceration.

The first line of the Administrative Order states: “It is necessary for the proper and efficient administration of justice to increase the types of cases monitored in Mental Health Criminal Division ‘M’ based on the recommendations of the stakeholders of this specialized division.”

Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance Denise E. O’Donnell elaborated on the topic, “Persons with serious mental illness far too often cycle in and out of the criminal justice system at great personal and financial cost. Mental health courts make a huge difference by interrupting that destructive cycle and keeping non-violent, justice-involved, mentally ill individuals in the community with appropriate services and support.”

Who is eligible for transfer to Mental Health Court in Hillsborough County? 

The new order, which took effect on June 1, 2017, supersedes last year’s Administrative Order S-2016-044. The new order stipulates that the court can transfer three types of cases to Division “M”:

  • Eligible defendants who are identified as having a mental illness for voluntary admission into a mental health pre-trial intervention program (in accordance with an agreement between the defendant and the State Attorney’s Office.)
  • Eligible defendants found incompetent to proceed: “A presiding judge of a standard division may transfer to Division ‘M’ any defendant charged with a third-degree felony not involving a firearm who is found to be incompetent to proceed.”
  • All defendants adjudged not guilty by reason of insanity: In these cases, the defense attorney will submit an order of transfer.

Expanding MHC may be a more effective, efficient, and less expensive way to rehabilitate non-violent defendants with mental illnesses than the traditional justice system.

“Florida’s jails and prisons are not designed, equipped, or funded to deal with serious mental illness, so the creation of the mental health court model (a problem-solving court docket model) was a logical response,” explains Florida Courts.

Find Out if Your Case Qualifies for Mental Health Court

Getting your case transferred to Division “M” can not only keep you from going to jail, but it gives you access to treatment and the chance to improve your life.

Eligible defendants will get access to:

  • Mental health evaluations
  • Visits with a psychiatrist
  • Individual and group counseling
  • Medication
  • Other appropriate therapy

To find out if your mental health condition and criminal case might qualify for transfer to Division “M,” call Goldman Wetzel and speak to a member of our staff. It is important to enlist the help of our criminal defense attorneys as soon as possible to ensure your case is handled correctly and does not fall through the cracks. Contact us today at 727-828-3900 for a free consultation.