Area of Law: Criminal Law
Answer # 1873
Reduced court punishments and mental health diversionRegion: Ontario Answer # 1873
What is mental health diversion?
Mental health diversion is a way of dealing with a criminal charge where the mentally ill accused does not have to plead guilty or go to trial. However, the accused person will have to take responsibility for their actions.
An accused person with a mental illness or disorder may be eligible for their charge to be dealt with by way of mental health diversion if it can be established that:
- the illness or disorder contributed to the commission of the offence, and
- the accused receives treatment that reduces their risk to reoffend.
If the charge is too serious, or the crown attorney is not agreeable to mental health diversion as punishment, then an experienced defence lawyer can argue that the accused is less morally blameworthy due to hi/her mental illness, and therefore entitled to a more lenient sentence.
A criminal defence lawyer experienced in representing clients with mental health issues will have the ability to assess whether the client has a mental illness, and whether the client is amenable to treatment, and then be able to present a mental health diversion plan for the crown attorney to consider.
Although there may be a waiting list for help, experienced lawyers may direct the client to resources in the community to assess and treat the client. In addition, most courthouses have mental health court workers employed by organizations such as the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). Lawyers can be especially effective in obtaining help in a timely fashion if the accused’s family has sufficient resources to obtain a private assessment and counselling.
If successfully completed, mental health diversion usually results in a withdrawal or stay (suspension) of the charges, however, many crown attorneys insist on the accused signing a peace bond, which is a court order to keep the peace, be of good behavior, and to obey certain conditions specified in the order.
What if the accused is not eligible for mental health diversion?
If the accused is not eligible for mental health diversion, a lawyer with experience representing mentally ill accused persons can still be effective in reducing the client’s punishment, sometimes with the result of the client having no criminal conviction. However, if the accused was fingerprinted and photographed by the police, there will be some form of a criminal record that needs to be destroyed. If the charges are very serious and involve violence, the accused may be spared jail or receive a reduced jail sentence, if the accused receives treatment and counselling that significantly reduce his/her risk to reoffend violently.
The availability of mental health diversion and reduced punishment for mentally ill accused persons recognizes that if a mental illness drives a person’s behavior, treating and managing the illness will often result in the person no longer being a risk to the public.
If you have been charged with a criminal offence, and need to hire a criminal defence lawyer, contact our preferred experts: The Criminal Law Team .
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