Helping a loved one with mental health issues in the criminal justice system

It is common for those suffering from serious mental illness to wind up facing criminal charges. California is seeking to improve its handling of those suffering from mental illness.

The criminal justice system is often ill-equipped to handle people with mental health issues. Unfortunately, people struggling with severe mental health issues or addiction often end up in the court system, facing criminal charges.

In Alameda County, approximately 50 people are placed on a "5150 hold" every day. These are people who may be a danger to themselves or others. A 5150 hold refers to the section of state law that allows involuntary confinement of certain individuals.

Under "Laura's Law," passed in California in 2002, courts can order a subset of people with serious mental illness to accept outpatient treatment as a condition of living in the community, rather than cycle endlessly through the criminal justice system and involuntary confinement. However, Alameda County does not currently follow Laura's Law, which is an optional program implemented by individual counties.

There is currently a bill in the California legislature that would use Prop 63 funds to help fund Laura's Law throughout California. Another bill, AB 1193, would require county boards to vote to opt out of Laura's Law, rather than have to vote to implement it.

There is movement in Alameda County to adopt Laura's Law. A recent opinion article in SF Gate by County Board Member Wilma Chan argued that Alameda County should adopt Laura's Law, regardless of whether either proposal currently in the California legislature become law. In addition, California legislators have also introduced bills which would streamline the process for counties to implement Laura's Law, force police to consider a person's history when deciding to take a person into custody, and would change the 72-hour involuntary hold process.

As yet, however, it is unclear when, and if, Alameda County will adopt Laura's Law or other proposed changes.

Dealing with criminal charges

A mental health issue can lead to a variety of criminal charges, including illegal drug possession, DUI, assault and domestic violence. People struggling with addiction, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and schizophrenia are often thrust into court when treatment is a better option.

At Garcia, Schnayerson, & Thomson, our attorneys are familiar with defending Alameda County residents in the criminal justice system regardless of the underlying cause. Our attorneys are familiar with alternative sentencing options, including outpatient treatment, that can help mitigate the devastating consequences of a criminal conviction. If a loved one struggling through mental health issues is facing criminal charges, contact our office to discuss your available legal options.

Keywords: Criminal defense, mental illness, Laura's Law, 5150 hold.