Who Can Be Sent to Mental Health Court in PA?

lawyer and client discussing mental health court in pa

In Pennsylvania, counties are allowed to have a special judicial system in place to better judge people suffering from significant mental illnesses. Counties are not required to have a mental health court system in place in PA, so some counties do not. Both Lackawanna County and the nearby county of Luzerne do.

Criminal offenses are not things that are supposed to go unpunished, but it’s also important to take into account the defendant’s mental being. There are people who would not commit the offenses they are being charged with, or not to the same severity, if not for their mental illness. The mental health court in PA will take this into account.

The original conceit behind the prison system is reform, and the mental health court system aims to meet that idea even more. But not every type of mental illness can go through this system. The criminal defense attorneys at Mazzoni Valvano Szewczyk & Karam can explain if you or a loved one can qualify for the mental health court system in PA.

How Does Someone Go to Mental Health Court in PA?

Each county that utilizes a mental health court system has its own application system. Luzerne County and Lackawanna County both utilize an application system. Luzerne County does require a referral, which is often a police officer.

The application asks for basic information about you or your loved one’s criminal and mental health history. It requires information beyond your diagnoses, such as your past and current treatment if you are receiving any.

Who is Eligible for the Mental Health Court System in PA?

Lackawanna County and Luzerne County have similar prerequisites for people applying to their special court system. Similar requirements include:

  • Having a severe documented mental illness or disability. (Lackawanna does specify that it has to be an Axis I illness)
  • Having an ARD-eligible offense except for DUIs. This includes mainly misdemeanors and some felonies.

There are a few significant differences in their requirements as well.

Eligibility in Lackawanna County

Lackawanna County’s requirements may not sound so different from Luzerne County’s at first glance, but their differences are important to understand.

  • The applicant has to be open to receiving court-mandated prescriptions and/or treatments.
  • If the applicant has “violated the conditions of Lackawanna Country Adult Probation, [they must have] at least 12 months remaining on probation.”

What’s important about these two distinctions is that in Lackawanna County, the defendant has to give up specific freedoms regarding their medical care that they may not in other counties or penal holdings.

Eligibility in Luzerne County

Luzerne County Specialty Court has one important difference from Lackawanna County. Where Lackawanna County requires the probation violator to still have at least 12 months of probation remaining, Luzerne doesn’t have that time requirement. While a person with less probation time than it takes to go to trial may see different treatment in court, there is no legal requirement for it.

What is an Axis I Mental Illness?

Both counties specify that mental illness has to be severe, but only Lackawanna County gives a specific designation of Axis I. Axis I mental illnesses are disorders that surround mental health and substance abuse disorders. This includes:

  • Dissociative disorders (Dissociative amnesia, Dissociative identity disorder)
  • Eating disorders (Anorexia, Bulimia)
  • Mood disorders (Major depression, Bipolar disorder)
  • Psychotic disorders (Schizophrenia)
  • Substance use disorders (Opioid use disorder, Alcohol use disorder)

While Luzerne County doesn’t have this same distinction, this standard is similar to what many counties follow. It’s best to speak with an attorney to know for sure what system your Northeastern Pennsylvania county utilizes.

What Charges Cannot Go Through the Mental Health Court System in PA?

While there are some exceptions, crimes of a violent nature are not acceptable through the mental health court. Lackawanna County specifically does not accept applicants who have committed:

  • Homicide
  • Sexual offenses
  • Drug trafficking
  • Arson

Luzerne County does not accept applicants who have committed:

  • Assault by prisoner
  • Drug trafficking
  • DUI
  • Homicide
  • Crimes of a violent nature
  • Sexual offenses

In each case, the circumstances will be reviewed, and there can be exceptions. Cases involving self-defense or the defense of another, accidents, and theft have been considered and allowed to proceed through mental health court in PA.

Contact MVSK Law For Help Applying to Mental Health Court

Pennsylvania’s judicial system cannot always fairly take people’s mental health into account when charging them. If you or a loved one suffers from a mental illness that likely impacted their actions and why they were charged, you’ll be best served by the mental health court system in PA.

To get into the mental health court system, and prove your innocence and need for mental health treatment, you need a criminal defense attorney. Contact the criminal defense attorneys at Mazzoni Valvano Szewczyk and Karam today for help.

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