There has been much discussion and debate about the new bill AB1810 which was recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in June regarding a wide range of budget and health issues.  The bill will provide numerous health safeguards for the public, such as specific protections for persons suffering from mental illness who find themselves in the criminal justice system. allows, under specific circumstances, for a defendant charged with a crime, misdemeanor or felony, to be diverted to mental health treatment for up to two years instead of facing a conviction, jail and prison. Yet the most obvious concern is that mentally competent people will use this as a means to escape prosecution. But what criteria must be met for diversion to take place?  Let’s look.

First, the defendant must show that he or she suffers from a mental disorder.  Second, this mental disorder must have played a significant role in the commission of the charged crime.  Finally,  a a mental health expert must then hold the opinion that the defendant’s symptoms motivating the criminal behavior would respond to mental health treatment.  If the court is convinced of all three criteria, it can divert the defendant to treatment, and if successful, the defendant’s case will be dismissed.

Those opposing the new law are concerned about public safety.  However, the bill also addresses this in the sense the court must deem the individual not posing any unreasonable risk to public safety (as well as to themselves).  The true safety net to this bill is an extensive part of the section which primarily addresses the time while the defendant is in the program.  They can be easily removed from the program for several reason; if they are charged with an additional misdemeanor or felony, if they are engaged in criminal conduct, if a qualified mental health expert deems they are performing unsatisfactory in program, or if the defendant is gravely disabled.

Another concern voiced by opponents of the law is that these records are completely erased and that there is no way to know who has participated in a diversion program.  This is clearly not the case based on the following section of the bill;

(2) An order to seal records pertaining to an arrest made pursuant to this section has no effect on a criminal justice agency’s ability to access and use those sealed records and information regarding sealed arrests, as described in Section 851.92.

In all, it seems that AB1810 allows for the court to further consider the effect of a person’s mental health in relation to criminal activity, helping to address a deeply rooted tie between mental health and crime.  And it also moves those suffering from mental illness out of prisons and into treatment facilities. Not only will this provide more humane treatment to ill individuals, it will save taxpayers a tremendous amount of money because prisons are simply not equipped to address the many needs of those suffering from mental illnesses.

If you have a loved one who is charged with a crime, contact Ferrentino & Associates today to see what alternatives to prosecution and jail are available for your loved one.