What is Utah’s Adult Mental Health Court?

Salt Lake City criminal lawyer

One of the biggest problems in the criminal justice system is how to treat mental illness.  In some cases, people only commit crimes because their mental illness makes it difficult to make better decisions, leads to compulsive behavior, or drives them toward isolation.  There are thousands of individuals incarcerated in Utah’s jails and prisons that could benefit from an increased focus on mental health care rather than punishment or incarceration.  The Mental Health Court seeks to get offenders the mental health treatment they need, along with taking steps to prevent reoffending.  If you or a loved one was charged with a crime and feel as though you could benefit from taking your case to the Adult Mental Health Court, call the Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyers at Overson Law today for a free consultation on your case.

What Does the Adult Mental Health Court Do?

The Mental Health Court is not a “court” in the same sense as the district courts and justice courts throughout Utah.  Those courts are physical courthouses and court systems put in place with judges and prosecutors to handle criminal charges of various levels.  Instead, the Mental Health Court is a system put in place to hold hearings and assessments for offenders with serious mental health issues.  The goal of this “court” is to prevent those who need special care and attention from being overlooked in general population in jail or prison.

Before criminal justice systems began using mental health courts, people had the choice of pleading insanity or accepting the punishment for their crimes.  Pleading insanity can lead to mental health treatment instead of incarceration, but this typically only occurs in very severe cases of mental illness.  In more moderate cases, it becomes impossible to seek mental health treatment as part of your involvement with the criminal justice system, and offenders with mental health needs are often incarcerated and their needs are not met.

Mental health courts seek to change that by working with mental health professionals to get offenders the help they need while still helping prevent future crime.  Utah’s adult mental health courts seek to stop defendants with mental health needs from going through the traditional justice process, keep them out of jail, and still improve community safety by decreasing recidivism.

Ultimately, the Mental Health Court is designed to help these individuals and the community in general.  Treating the defendant instead of the offense can help protect potential victims and save money if these programs successfully keep individuals from reoffending and returning to jail.

Requirements for Mental Health Court in Utah

Utah’s mental health courts are managed by the county.  There are 13 mental health courts in the state.  In some districts, there are multiple mental health courts – one for felonies and one or more for misdemeanors. Throughout Utah and the country, these courts have a complex process to get admitted.

There is a two-step process for admittance to mental health diversions.  To qualify for a mental health court, you must meet both the mental health requirements and legal requirements for your case.

Medical/Mental Health Requirements

To qualify for the mental health courts, you must have an “Axis I disorder,” as listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).  Typically, this means diagnosis with things like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or schizoaffective disorder (personality disorders that frequently lead to criminal behavior).  Diagnoses for depression or post-traumatic stress disorder may also apply, depending on the court’s specific rules.

The individual court’s rules are important in this step, since different courts have different resources.  For instance, some may not have the ability to help people with disorders stemming from brain trauma.

Legal Requirements

Some cases are automatically excluded from mental health court – but again, these rules are based on the county’s individual rules.  Most mental health courts exclude DUI charges, sex offenses, and extremely violent offenses.  In any case, the prosecutor will review the specifics of the case to determine if mental health court is appropriate.

Paying for mental health court is always a concern.  Some mental health courts require participants to apply for Medicaid.  In addition, these courts are called “adult” courts because they are only open to adult offenders, and juvenile offenders cannot seek treatment this way.

Applying to Mental Health Court

The process for applying is complex and should always be handled with the help of an attorney.  This process may require you to seek medical care or mental health evaluations on your own so that you can prove your diagnosis before you are accepted to the program.  Talk to a defense attorney to help guide you through the process.

Before entering the mental health court, you will usually be asked to enter a guilty plea to the charges you face.  Failing to complete the program usually means entering this plea on the record and facing the criminal penalties if you cannot complete the mental health court’s requirements.

Salt Lake City Defense Lawyers for Mental Health Court Applicants

If you or a loved one committed a crime and suffers from serious mental health issues, contact an attorney today.  The Salt Lake City criminal defense attorneys at Overson Law help defendants apply to the Adult Mental Health Court in their county and work through their case.  To schedule a free consultation on your case, contact our law offices today at (801) 895-3143.

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