Many people who are accused of committing crimes suffer from one or more mental illnesses, and in some instances, there is a link between the illness a person suffers from and the offenses he or she allegedly committed. In such a case, a criminal defendant may be eligible to enter into the Mental Health Court Program. Not everyone is eligible for the Program, however, and those who are should seek legal counsel regarding their options and the benefits and drawbacks of entering the Mental Health Court system. If you suffer from mental illness and are charged with a crime, it is advisable to meet with a knowledgeable Tampa criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to determine what action is most appropriate in your case.
What is Florida’s Mental Health Court?
Florida’s Mental Health Court program is an alternative to the traditional criminal justice system. Entry into the Mental Health Court program is voluntary. A criminal defendant may be referred by an attorney, but the Court has the ultimate say as to whether a defendant is accepted. Pursuant to Florida law, a defendant must meet certain criteria to enter the Program. Specifically, he or she must suffer from a persistent and severe mental illness. Typically, this means that the defendant suffers from a mood disorder, schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder, bipolar disorder, or a combination of disorders that is sufficiently disabling. It can also be a mental health disorder that renders the defendant unable to care for himself or herself. There must also be a correlation between his or her diagnosis and the charged offense. Additionally, the defendant must voluntarily agree to enter into the Program and to undergo mental health treatment.
After a defendant is accepted into the Program, mental health professionals will work with the defendant to develop a Court Supervision Plan, which must be approved by the Court. Treatment and assistance is coordinated through the Program, and the defendant’s progress is closely monitored throughout the process. The defendant must regularly appear for court hearings and, if applicable, must meet the conditions of probation. The defendant must also agree to remain drug and alcohol free and refrain from engaging in criminal activity.
If a defendant successfully completes the Court Supervision plan, the pending charges against him or her will be dismissed by the State Attorney’s office. The defendant may then continue on regular supervision, or probation may be terminated. The defendant will then be connected to mental health service providers to help him or her make appropriate choices going forward.
Speak to an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Tampa
The Florida Mental Health Courts allow many criminal defendants with mental illness to avoid more serious penalties than they would face otherwise. If you are charged with a crime and have a persistent mental illness, you should speak to a lawyer about your options. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is an experienced Tampa criminal defense attorney, and he can advise you of your options and help to develop a strategy to meet your needs. You can contact Mr. Hanlon through the online form or at 813-228-7095 to schedule a meeting.