The Effects of Mental Health and Substance Abuse in Criminal Cases

When you think about mental health and criminal defense, the first thing that springs to mind is probably the insanity defense. Florida does recognize an insanity defense, which provides if the defendant who has a mental disease or defect with a defense to criminal conduct provided their mental disease or defect caused them either to not understand the nature of their actions or the possible consequences of those actions or to not recognize that the act was wrong. But, that’s a relatively rare defense. Moreover, this defense doesn’t even scratch the surface in terms of the multitude of the ways that mental health problems can impact a criminal case. Additionally, while they may manifest differently than conditions like schizophrenia or generalized anxiety disorder, addiction or substance abuse disorders also fall under the ambit of mental health.

Not so long ago in our State’s past issues like mental illness or addiction wouldn’t have much of an impact on the prosecution of a particular individual. However, the State of Florida has been trying to make strides in better addressing the concerns that mental illness and addiction have on our residents as it is widely understood that many of those who suffer from such conditions will come into contact with the Florida Criminal Justice System. As such, here in Florida, problem-solving courts, including mental health courts and drug courts, open up a path to treatment and rehabilitation for those who qualify. In fact, the state of Florida has been a pioneer in this area as the first drug court in the United States started in Miami-Dade County in 1989, and the Duval County drug court program began in 1994.

Problem-Solving Courts

Drug courts and mental health courts are just two types of problem-solving courts in Florida–courts designed to bypass the standard conviction and punishment model to assist people facing certain types of struggles and protect society through treatment and management of those issues. There is also a special program designed for veterans, which is also geared toward addressing mental health issues with proven treatment programs.

Florida Mental Health Courts and Drug Courts

Florida currently has more than 50 adult drug courts and more than 30 mental health courts. Duval County has both, along with other problem-solving courts. The 4th Judicial Circuit, where Duval County is located, says the purpose of these courts is to help individuals with untreated mental illness, drug dependency, or a combination of the two to achieve stability, learn how to live with mental illness, live without illegal drugs, and to restore their lives and families. The County also has a separate drug court program for juveniles.

So you may be wondering how do mental health courts or drug courts work. Essentially these treatment courts are year long diversionary programs. Said more plainly these programs allow individuals who suffer from significant mental health concerns or addiction to enter into a structured environment wherein they will receive treatment, resources to assist them. But, being routed into a mental health court or a drug court is far from a free pass. Those who are offered the option and choose to accept are held to high standards–but these treatment courts remain as an opportunity for those who want to make positive changes.

Now as stated above these programs last for at least a year, and the exact duration of a diversionary court program is different for each participant. But every participant will be required to make multiple court appearances and undergo either mental health and/or substance abuse treatment, which may include residential treatment. The participant will also be subject to other terms and requirements, such as drug testing, following your treatment plan, not leaving the county without court permission and more.

What Happens After Mental Health or Drug Court?

There are two ways to enter mental health or drug court programs in Duval County. First, you may be offered this opportunity shortly after you are charged as a pre-trial intervention. If you meet all criteria for the program and voluntarily sign a participation agreement, charges against you will be dismissed if and when you successfully complete the program.

The other possibility is that the program will be offered as a term of probation, usually to help you avoid incarceration. However, while on probation failure to comply with the drug court or mental health court program can constitute a probation violation. Now if such a violation is alleged the prosecution of a probation violation is an abbreviated process. Moreover, the prosecution is not required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you violated your probation. Instead, the standard is “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning that they must show that it is more likely than not that you committed the violation. Furthermore if a probationer is found to have violated their probation they can be sentenced up to the maximum allowable penalty that one originally faced. Thus if placed into a treatment court as a condition of probation it is critical to give the process your best shot.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Issues in Standard Prosecutions

If a defendant isn’t offered drug court or mental health court, mental health and substance abuse may still play a role–and not only in extreme cases such as when the insanity defense is an option. Such mental health conditions can be raised as a form of mitigation to help explain a defendant’s actions to the prosecutor. As such, a skilled defense attorney may seek to provide documentation of a diagnosed condition as well as any steps a defendant has taken to address the condition when negotiating with a prosecutor. Such efforts may lead to a more favorable resolution. For example, a first time defendant who has a substance abuse problem, but has been taking steps to address this problem might be referred to pre-trial diversion or probation as opposed to incarceration.

The options may be confusing, particularly if you are offered a pre-trial diversion, since each program operates differently. Whatever route you take, it is important to understand exactly what you’re committing to (or what you’re giving up by not committing), what’s at risk, what will be required of you, and what happens if you don’t stick with the program. The best way to get complete information about your options and determine what is in your best interest is to speak to an experienced criminal lawyer in Jacksonville, FL.

Talk to a Criminal Defense Attorney Right Away

If you are offered a diversion into drug court or mental health court, that generally happens early in the proceedings, so it’s important that you get thorough and accurate information right away. An experienced criminal law attorney may also be able to persuade the prosecution to offer you a diversion into one of these problem-solving courts, even if it wasn’t initially offered.

Matthew Lufrano has been a dedicated criminal attorney in Jacksonville, FL since 2009. Before starting the firm, Mr. Lufrano worked as an assistant public defender, defending people charged with a wide range of offenses including both misdemeanors and felonies. In 2012, he was named Trial Attorney of the Year for the Public Defender’s Office. Additionally, Mr. Lufrano was subsequently recognized by the Florida Bar as a Board Certified Expert in Criminal Trial Law. Thus Mr. Lufrano puts his expertise to work every day helping people in Jacksonville and throughout the state of Florida fight criminal charges leveled against them.

To learn more regarding exactly how Matthew I. Lufrano and Lufrano Legal, P.A. can help you, schedule a free consultation right now. Just call 904-513-3905 or fill out the contact form on this site. But remember that time counts in criminal prosecutions, so don’t delay.