Court-Run Mental Health Programs

November 17, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.texasdefensefirm.com

(972) 369-0577

I’ve blogged extensively about mental health and how it intersects with criminal law.  The over-lap can’t be understated.  You can watch a podcast I’ve done on the topic here.

Some of the good news is many criminal law judges, probation departments and even prosecutors have gotten on-board with gearing to include mental heath treatment as well as their normal repertoire.  It never hurts to ask your lawyer or your loved one’s lawyer what the available options are.

I can’t tell you how many mothers, fathers, spouses and other loved-ones of my clients have told me their main goal in a case is to simply get them help.  But the criminal justice system – and the adversarial process wasn’t naturally built to accomplish tasks like mental health treatment.  There are pros and actually cons to Court-Run mental health programs folks should be aware of.

Advantages of Court-Run Mental Health Programs

On the plus side, these court-run programs are designed for the indigent or near indigent.  So cost which often dictates far more than it should is hopefully all but eliminated.

The county (or whatever governmental sub-division you’re dealing with) has access to more infrastructure and services than a private entity might be able to have.

The court also has a “captive” audience meaning the individual has no real choice but to participate.  Anyone who has a loved one who is either so disturbed or oblivious to their mental health disorder that they refuse treatment knows how valuable this can be.

Disadvantages

For me as a criminal defense lawyer – I’m always focused on what happens to the client in 10 or 20 years based on what we do today.  Here are some important questions I ask about any government program:

  • Will this program require my client to be convicted as a price of admission?
  • Can I get this off my client’s record in addition to getting the treatment (often known as mental health diversion)?
  • Do I actually trust the county’s ability to do what they say they can do to help?
  • Am I just signing someone up for the county to be “in their hair” for years to come?
  • Are there better private alternatives which are viable options?

The Bottom Line on Court-Run Mental Illness Programs

Make no mistake – it’s fabulous to see courts simply move in this direction.  Judges and probation officers paying attention to these crucial aspects and triggers for criminal cases is a great thing – and you know people are really starting to get the importance of mental health when the prosecutors even get involved.

But going into a mental health program run by a judge or probation department is still – and probably always will be – a “look before you leap” situation.  There are always many factors to consider.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is board certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and has been designated as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.


Podcast: Mental Health

November 9, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.texasdefensefirm.com

(972) 369-0577

On my weekly podcast a few weeks ago the topic was mental health in criminal law.  My guest was Vanita Parker – one of the lawyers at our firm and the founder of the Mental Health Division of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office.

We discuss the impacts mental health on the courts – no easy or small topic!

*Jeremy Rosenthal is certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He is designated as a Texas Super Lawyer by the Thomson Reuters.


Mental Illness & Criminal Law: Understanding the Problem

October 15, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

texasdefensefirm.com

(972) 369-0577

It’s hard to over-state the importance the role mental illness plays in criminal law.  There’s little question in my mind it’s far more prevalent people give it credit for.

A recent survey to Texas criminal defense lawyers asked, “What percentage of your clients suffer from some degree of mental illness in your view?” — and the most common answer was between 50% and 75%.

 

What is Mental Illness?

I find many folks – including my clients and their families – struggle with understanding the very concept of having emotional or behavioral problems.

My view is just about everyone wakes up in the morning wanting to be a law abiding citizen.  But many people are driven so far out of their normal range they get in trouble because of things like anxiety, depression, manic states, and on and on.  This is how I define mental illness.

The term “mentally ill” has a much harsher and deeper connotation than what it really means to me.  Many think it only applies to people who hear voices in their heads, talk to themselves, or who must be confined to a straight jacket in a padded room.  In reality, someone going through a really rough patch in their lives can be driven so far by everything going on in their mind – they can often do or say something which hurts another person or gets themselves in a situation they otherwise know is wrong.

Jail

I ask juries what they think of our national mental health system.  They get puzzled – because they can’t really think of what that is.  Then I point out to them the tragic truth — our mental health system is called “jail.”

Jail and mental illness are frequently on a collision course.  We often don’t know someone has cancer until they exhibit physical symptoms.  We often don’t know someone has the flu until they have a fever.  And we often don’t know how much someone is struggling inside until they get into trouble.  It could be assault, theft, drugs, trespassing — the scenarios are endless — but there are very few criminal cases where mental illness doesn’t play a role.

The Enemy of Treatment – the “Tough on Crime” Mindset

Texas is tough on crime.  Many here unfortunately feed into the cops vs. robbers, good guys vs. bad guys dialogue.  Many believe if crime rates are high – we just need to be meaner to people and things will be fine.  Fortunately these voices are fewer and fewer.

Police deal with tons of mental illness on the streets.  Their aim is generally short-term safety for everyone and not necessarily long term treatment.  They also often don’t have the choice but to take someone to jail who has either committed a crime or who poses a danger to others.

I find prosecutors have a tougher time understanding mental illness because they’re somewhat insulated from it.  They talk with the shop-owner who is having a hard time making ends meet but it’s the defense lawyer who deals to the shoplifter describe the sheer degree of anxiety which drove them to do something they knew was wrong as a simple example.

Getting People Help

The million-dollar question is how do we get help to those who need it. That’s an equally difficult problem.  Understanding the problem is the start.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He is a Texas Super Lawyer as designated by Thomson Reuters.