By Don Barnes
A foundational principle of any criminal justice system is the necessity to hold individuals accountable for actions that violate the law and jeopardize the safety of others. Over the past seven years, a series of policy initiatives in our state have severely eroded the ability to hold criminal offenders accountable.
In 2011, AB109 shifted thousands of state prisoners to local jails. In 2014, Proposition 47 reduced drug and property crimes classified as felonies to misdemeanors. Proposition 57 provided a mechanism for state prisoners to be granted early release. Now, in the midst of all these reforms, Gov. Brown and the Legislature have enacted a new law that will almost certainly be utilized as a get-out-of-jail-free card by some of Californias worst offenders. The new law, AB1810, provides those charged with any misdemeanor or felony to have their charges put on hold or even dismissed if they can convince a judge that the offense was committed as a result of a treatable mental health disorder.
Examples of mental health disorders that could qualify for diversion include alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, PTSD, anxiety and a myriad of other behavioral conditions. If the court agrees with the diagnosis, the defendant has the opportunity to participate in a mental health diversion program for two years and face no future consequence for their criminal act. In fact, the language of the law requires the charges to be expunged from the individuals criminal record as if the crime never occurred. Additionally there is no role for prosecutorial review in the decision to refer a defendant to a diversion program, cutting out a vital part of our criminal justice system.
Read the full op-ed on OC Register.