As a criminal defense attorney in Vancouver (Clark County), Washington who has successfully handled a wide-ranging array of criminal cases, ranging from Disorderly Conduct to Attempted Murder in the Second Degree. I have encountered mental health issues throughout my practice involving my clients that were relevant both to potential defenses (insanity and diminished capacity) as well as mitigation (a justification why someone should receive a lesser charge or lessor sentence). I have used these mental health issues to successfully defend my clients in a number of cases throughout my career. However, to be clear though, just because someone has mental health issues does not mean they have a mental health defense or mitigation.
Clark County Felony Mental Health Court
Now of course beyond the individual case perspective there still exists the issues for clients in dealing with their mental health issues from a treatment perspective so they do not return to a situation where they are facing criminal charges again. A new approach in the local Vancouver, Clark County, Washington is the Felony Mental Health Court that has come online in 2018. The Felony Mental Health Court is an extension of the Misdemeanor Mental Health Court that has existed for many years. In this article I will explain the Felony and Misdemeanor Mental Health Court, that includes their new features. This article will be in several sections/parts due to the length and depth I will go into.
Mental Health Court is a Clark County Therapeutic Specialty Court that treats felony and misdemeanor defendants on a combined docket. Mental Health Court offers eligible participants the chance to enter an alternative treatment program for those potential participants with serious and persistent mental illness. This collaborative team approach is a partnership of people interested in supervising and assisting people who are willing to makes changes in their life using best practice and evidence-based approaches.
As of January 1, 2018, Mental Health Court is a “pre-plea” program that accepts both misdemeanor and felony offenses. To participate, the participant must waive his or her right to a speedy trial and voluntarily agree to enter and abide by the conditions set forth in the program contract. If a defendant successfully completes the program (graduates), the defendant’s pending charges will be dismissed, with prejudice. Dismissed with Prejudice means that the charges cannot ever be reinstated again.
Qualifying for The Mental Health Court
The potential participant must qualify under the guidelines as defined in RCW 2.30.030 with the following conditions included:
- Be an adult with a file charged in Clark County District Court or Clark County Superior Court.
- Must reside in Clark County, while in the program.
- Have a DSM-IV, Axis I primary diagnosis or a DSM V primary diagnosis.
- The alleged criminal behavior in the pending offense must be related to or caused by the individual’s mental illness as supported by the mental health suitability screen and/or evaluation (RCW 2.30.030).
- The defendant has the mental capacity and ability to appreciate the consequences of the legal proceedings and fully understand the expectations and conditions of the Mental Health Court program and contract.
- Under the pre-plea model, the defendant does not plead guilty before entering MHC. Instead, the defendant agrees to waive his or her right to a speedy trial. The defendant’s charges remain open and pending while the defendant is a participant in MHC. The defendant voluntarily enters into a contract with MHC in which he/she agrees to abide by the terms and conditions of MHC and agrees to waive a number of rights, should he/she be terminated from MHC (see Section No. 5, B: Stipulations and Waiver of Rights). Upon successful completion of the program, the defendant’s charges on his/her pending case will be dismissed with prejudice.
- The defendant must have cleared any outstanding warrants (exceptions may be made on a case by case basis) and resolved any other pending matters before being considered for the program.
A defendant applying for MHC will be disqualified if:
- The defendant has been convicted (as juvenile or as an adult) or is currently charged with:A serious violent offense, as defined by RCW 9.94A.030
- A violent offense, as defined by RCW 9.94A.030
- A sex offense, as defined by RCW 9.94A. 030
- An offense alleging intentional discharge, threat to discharge, or attempt to discharge a firearm in furtherance of an offense
- Vehicular homicide or equivalent out-of-state offense
- An offense alleging substantial bodily harm or great bodily harm, as defined in RCW 9A.04.110, or death of another person
- The defendant is currently charged with Driving Under the Influence, Driver Under Twenty- One Consuming Alcohol or Marijuana, or Physical Control of Vehicle Under the Influence.
- If the referred charge involves e victim under the age of 18, over the age of 65, or domestic violence, the referral must be expressly approved by either the City Prosecutor or the Chief Criminal Deputy.
- Any defendant not approved by the prosecutor.
Case-by-Case Disqualifying Factors
A defendant applying for MHC may be disqualified and will be staffed on a case-by-case basis if he/she has been convicted (as juvenile or as an adult) oil is currently charged with:
- Illegal use or possession of a firearm or dangerous weapon
- The defendant has previously participated in Clark County MHC
- MHC Team denies based on crimogenic risk factors (typically only moderate to high risk offender‘s are eligible based on an offender risk/needs instrument). The MHC Team has the final decision-snaking authority to determine whether to admit a defendant into MHC, assuming the candidate has been approved for referral by the prosecuting attorney.
This is part 1 of a multiple post series on Mental Health legal defense in Clark County, WA. Part 2