From a health care provider who, police say, deliberately drove his Telsa off a cliff together with his household inside, to a person accused of homicide whereas underneath the care of the courtroom, there’s rising concern about who’s eligible to keep away from a felony conviction by collaborating in California’s Mental Health Diversion Court.  

There are additionally many success tales and research that time to the potential for diminished recidivism amongst profitable psychological well being courtroom candidates. However, critics fear that latest modifications to the legislation are permitting some defendants to misuse California’s lately expanded Mental Health Diversion Court program. 

A CBS News California investigation discovered that there isn’t any dependable information to trace the state-wide success of the brand new Mental Health “Diversion” Courts. It’s additionally troublesome to find out who essentially the most profitable program candidates are and the way most of the “profitable” members re-offend after having their costs dropped. The information we obtained from counties and the state was largely contradictory or incomplete. 

Critics increase two main issues: 

  • Public Safety: Judges have restricted discretion to disclaim somebody Diversion out of concern for public security. There should be proof {that a} defendant will commit a “tremendous strike” (i.e., rape or homicide) throughout the two-year program interval to ensure that a decide to disclaim diversion resulting from public security issues.  

    Critics argue that future crimes are practically not possible to show and that the legislation needs to be amended to provide judges extra discretion associated to public security issues. 

  • Accountability: State legislation now requires judges to mechanically presume that almost any psychological sickness is said to almost any crime. Common disorders like ADAH, anorexia, marijuana dependency and erectile dysfunction are actually thought of eligible “psychological diseases” for individuals accused of felony crimes, together with home violence, kidnapping and tried homicide.

    Critics argue that this variation is permitting some defendants, whose issues could not have significant connections to crimes, to have their costs dropped with out dealing with accountability for his or her crimes or offering justice for his or her victims.  

Cesar: A Mental Health Court Success Story 

Mental Health Treatment Court gave Cesar a “second likelihood in life.”

He’d been homeless for seven years when he was arrested for assault, excessive on meth laced with fentanyl.  

“I noticed that I tousled and I might have harm someone. And it makes me really feel dangerous,” Cesar stated. 

After being arrested and serving time in county jail, Cesar obtained the chance to take part in Sacramento County’s Mental Health Treatment Court.

Sacramento has been working its psychological well being remedy courtroom for over a decade. It was solely a post-conviction program for individuals like Cesar who had already served time in jail. 

Participants with a recognized psychological sickness, that was a big issue of their crime, are eligible to have their conviction dismissed. They should full a 12-18 month post-conviction program, which the probation division supervises, and adjust to common drug checks, psychological well being remedy and make common courtroom appearances. 

The courtroom additionally connects defendants with assist companies through non-profits like Turning Point, which features a case employee to assist guarantee members make it to appointments. They might also get free or backed housing and employment help. 

Now that Cesar has efficiently accomplished this system, his conviction has been erased. 

“I did not know one other life till I obtained arrested. And I stop (medicine) chilly turkey (in jail),” stated Cesar throughout his commencement. “Now I’m sober. Now I see how an actual man feels.” 

However, Not everyone seems to be as profitable as Cesar. California jail populations have decreased during the last decade, however each the quantity and proportion of inmates with psychological diseases have elevated, in response to research from the Public Policy Institute of California

Changes to Mental Health Diversion Programs 

In 2019, Governor Jerry Brown created a brand new *Pretrial* Mental Health Diversion Court program.

Unlike Cesar’s program, which was post-conviction, the pretrial diversion observe permits defendants to droop their prosecution and keep away from conviction altogether in the event that they full the 12 to 18-month remedy program. 

But participation was initially restricted with fewer than 2,000 members in 2021 whereas a 2020 RAND study discovered that an estimated 61% of the Los Angeles County Jail psychological well being inhabitants could have been acceptable candidates for diversion packages.

To broaden entry and improve participation,  Governor Gavin Newsom signed a revised legislation, which took impact in 2023. 

Under the expanded psychological well being division legislation, defendants now not need to show their recognized psychological sickness triggered them to commit a criminal offense. The revised legislation now requires judges to mechanically presume that almost any psychological sickness was the rationale for practically any crime, until the prosecution can show in any other case. 

At least  41 counties now offer some model of grownup psychological well being courts and participation in statewide diversion packages has increased by nearly 150% in two years.

They’re not all success tales

“Folks that should not be in there, as a result of they do pose a risk to public security are getting admitted,” stated Rochelle Beardsley, Sacramento County’s Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney. 

Beardsley pointed to the instance of Fernando Jimenez. He was charged with violently attacking his neighbor following a disagreement. Court data reveal he cracked the girl’s orbital socket. 

Jimenez was granted psychological well being diversion and whereas he was in this system he allegedly killed a person. He is now dealing with homicide costs in Placer County.    

Beardsley stated there’s little prosecutors or judges can do in the event that they really feel somebody, who’s technically eligible for diversion, could be a danger to public security. 

“I’ve to show that this explicit defendant goes to commit an excellent strike offense throughout the two years,” Beardsley stated. “That’s not possible for me to have the ability to show.” 

She additionally notes that common disorders like ADHD, anorexia, marijuana dependency and erectile dysfunction are thought of eligible “psychological diseases” for practically any crime. 

For occasion, investigators say a Pasadena physician deliberately drove his Tesla off the cliff at Devil’s Slide in Pacifica together with his spouse and two younger youngsters inside. Because he says he suffers from melancholy, and since and his household survived, he is now asking for psychological well being diversion as a substitute of prosecution for tried homicide and baby abuse.

Murder and intercourse crimes aren’t eligible for psychological well being diversion. However, if a sufferer survives, tried homicide, kidnapping and home violence are eligible. 

A invoice that would have made attempted murder ineligible for mental health diversion unanimously handed the Assembly Public Safety Committee this 12 months. 

However, Assembly Apportions chair Buffy Wicks quietly killed the bill last month by holding it within the appropriations suspense file. Neither Wicks nor Assembly Appropriations employees responded to requests for remark. 

Dirty Data 

So how profitable are California’s Mental Health Diversion courts? Well that will depend on who you ask. Examples like Cesar and Jimenez are simply anecdotes with out dependable information.

 In an effort to determine how profitable psychological well being courts are, CBS News California gathered information from county courts and DA’s workplaces throughout the state and in contrast the counties’ success fee information to the county success rates listed on the state’s dashboard. 

The information was largely contradictory or incomplete. In some instances, the state cited a lot larger county success charges than the counties themselves. 

The State Judicial Council acknowledged its information was incomplete, noting additional success-rate data might be accessible by July 2025.  

Promising however dated information 

A small-scale research of Sacramento’s Mental Health Treatment Court – earlier than the brand new pretrial diversion system observe – discovered graduates like Cesar who obtained remedy after serving jail time have been 25% much less prone to be arrested and 75% much less prone to be hospitalized. 

Sacramento County was used as a case study by the state when making a mannequin for efficiently implementing Mental Health Diversion courts in 2019. 

Sacramento was one of many few counties that supplied CBS News with information that was pretty according to the state’s information. It confirmed a 66% Mental Health Diversion Court commencement fee over the previous three years. 

A special view of success 

After presiding over psychological well being courtroom for over a decade, Sacramento County Judge Larry Brown has a distinct view of success. 

“It’s success the second we join them to a psychological well being supplier. It’s successful once we get them on treatment whereas they’re in jail,” Judge Brown stated.  

He says he sees roughly 200 individuals every week, whom he will get to know by means of common check-ins. 

“When some graduate like Cesar,” he stated, “We’re really going to overlook him. He’s a delight. And he is been a gentleman. That’s what’s nice about this job,” he stated. 

But with out higher statewide information, to point out what’s working and what’s not, Judge Brown’s courtroom and Cesar are merely anecdotes with nice potential.