Establishing a Pretrial Diversion Program for those with Mental Health Disorders
California Assembly Bill 1810 established a diversion program for individuals with mental disorders that had been charged with a crime. In an effort to “mitigate the individuals’ entry and reentry into the criminal justice system,” the bill codified the mental health diversion program into law with Penal Code 1001.36.
Under Penal Code 1001.36, a court, within its discretion, may grant pretrial diversion for defendants suffering from a mental disorder identified in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The DSM-5, according to the American Psychiatric Association, is considered “the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders.”
The defense must prove to the court evidence of the defendant’s mental disorder through a recent diagnosis by a qualified mental health expert. Pursuant to the Penal Code, a mental health expert may base his or her diagnosis on:
- An examination of the defendant
- The defendant’s medical records
- Arrest reports, or
- Any other relevant evidence
The court must through “relevant and credible evidence” such as “police reports, preliminary hearing transcripts, witness statements, statements by the defendant’s mental health treatment provider, medical records, records or reports by qualified medical experts, or evidence that the defendant displayed symptoms consisted with the relevant mental disorder at or near the time of the offense,” determine that the defendant’s mental disorder played a significant role in the commission of the offense.
Mental health diversion can save a person from having a criminal record that may prevent them from obtaining employment. To be successful, a participant must complete court-approved inpatient or outpatient treatment and have a long-term plan for mental health care after discharge. Programs, such as the one established by AB 1810, that focus on addressing underlying mental health disorders have been extremely successful throughout the country.