Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law (AB 1810) in late June which is anticipated to have a huge impact on the California criminal justice system. It is a significant piece of legislation which permits a court to grant pretrial diversion to a defendant charged with a crime based upon the defendant’s mental health condition(s).
The law states that if the court finds (a) the defendant suffers from a mental disorder (including disorders such as bipolar, PTSD, and others); (b) the mental disorder played a significant role in the commission of the offense; (c) the defendant’s motivation to commit the offense would respond to mental health treatment, (d) the defendant agrees to comply with treatment; and (e) the defendant will not pose an unreasonable risk to public safety if treated in the community, then the court may order pretrial intervention which could lead to a dismissal of a misdemeanor or a felony charge.
The new law has sparked a storm of controversy, with opponents complaining that it undermines the entire California criminal justice system. Our opinion at this point is that if the law is used appropriately, and not abused by every defendant irrespective of whether they qualify, it is a step in the right direction as it takes into account mental conditions that contribute to criminal behavior. Further, the court retains ultimate discretion whether to grant the defendant’s petition; it is far from an entitlement to a dismissal. Since successful completion of this pretrial diversion program could lead to a dismissal of charges, this law can be an extremely useful and effective tool for criminal defense attorneys and their clients in California.