On February 24, 2017, Chief Judge Charles E. Williams signed an administrative order that establishes eligibility criteria for Sarasota County’s Mental Health Court. Administrative Order 2017-3.3 aims to better address mental health issues with criminal defendants and provide quicker access to the treatment they need rather than just sending them to jail.
If you or a loved one was recently arrested or is facing charges, contact Goldman Wetzel in St. Petersburg and talk to one of our criminal defense lawyers. We can address any mental health issues that may affect your case and determine if we can use them as a defense and help you avoid jail time. Call 727-828-3900 to speak to someone about your case today.
What programs does Mental Health Court offer?
The goals of Sarasota County’s Mental Health Court are to “improve public safety, improve the quality of life of the participants, pay restitution to victims and reduce recidivism all while decreasing the amount of incarceration,” explains the 12th Judicial Court. It features two programs:
- Health Care Court (HCC): HCC is for criminal defendants who “can meaningfully engage in outpatient treatment.” The program can be used to either treat defendants whose misdemeanor and felony cases have already been decided, or used as a diversion program for defendants who are still in the midst of their cases.
- Comprehensive Treatment Court (CTC): CTC is a more intensive program for defendants who “suffer from a serious mental illness (SMI) and whose basic needs cannot be met without support.” It can only be used as a diversionary program for mentally incompetent defendants facing certain misdemeanor charges to divert them from jail.
One of the best aspects of this Administrative Order is the expedited process for defendants with mental illnesses. This not only makes mental health treatment readily available for those who really need it, but it also makes it possible for our team at Goldman Wetzel to help certain defendants avoid jail.
“Time is of the essence in cases involving individuals with mental illnesses and especially where an incarcerated defendant is Mental Health Court eligible. Therefore, all parties should work expeditiously in their role in order to realize the intent of the legislature and the goals of Mental Health Court,” the order states.
Call us as soon as possible. We can examine your case and determine the best option for you. We might be able to get you into the Mental Health Court to get you the help you need or explore another avenue to get your charges dropped or reduced.
What benefits do the Mental Health Court programs provide?
Mental Health Court, funded by the government, private foundations, and grants, focuses on giving people the mental health treatment they need rather than putting them in jail, laying the foundation for true rehabilitation. “Participants receive professional, accessible, quality treatment and support services at little or no cost while remaining accountable to the Court,” explains the Court.
The Administrative Order provides a streamlined process for CTC-eligible defendants. If the eligible defendant is not on probation, has not been in jail during the last three years, and is charged with one of the following misdemeanors, the program will divert them from jail:
- Resisting an officer without violence
- Giving a false name to a law enforcement officer
- Public urination
- False 911 call
- False report to law enforcement
- Disorderly intoxication
- Disorderly conduct
- Possession of marijuana, spice, or paraphernalia
- Possession of alcohol by a minor
- False fire alarm
- Open container
- Plant removal
- Being in a park after hours
When a defendant successfully completes the HCC diversion program or the CTC program, the court will dismiss the case. Completing the program can also satisfy the defendant’s conditions of probation and felony Pre-Trial Intervention.
Who is eligible for Mental Health Court?
Eligibility for Mental Health Court is not always clear-cut, which is why we encourage those who might qualify to work with the attorneys at Goldman Wetzel to review whether they qualify and then take appropriate action.
HCC accepts felonies as a condition of probation or as a condition for Pre-Trial Intervention. It also accepts misdemeanors as a condition of probation or diversion. Felony defendants are subject to HCC screening to make sure they are a good match for the program.
CTC accepts only misdemeanors for participants with SMIs who enter through diversion. When the defendant completes the CTC program, the court will dismiss the case.
Note: DUIs do not qualify for Mental Health Court programs.
There are three eligibility criteria for Mental Health Court:
(1) The defendant must pass a mental health assessment. To pass, a licensed mental health professional must determine that the defendant’s mental illness likely led to the criminal conduct and that he will likely be responsive and compliant to treatment;
(2) The defendant’s charges are suitable for Mental Health Court according to the new Administrative Order; and
(3) The defendant must voluntarily enter into the Mental Health Court program.
Goldman Wetzel can help determine if you qualify for Mental Health Court and can help you navigate the system. Contact us at 727-828-3900 for assistance.