Criminal Procedure

Los Angeles courts see significant rise in mental health cases

  • Print.

Competency cases, for criminal defendants who are deemed too mentally ill to stand trial, have increased by 50 percent in the Los Angeles Superior Court. The increase reflects a time period between 2014 and 2015.

Jackie Lacey, the county’s district attorney, told the Los Angeles Times that she could not specify why the number of cases has increased, but she does think that the city needs to embrace a mental health diversion program.

The court does not keep specific data about what sorts of cases go to mental health court, according to the article. The Los Angeles Times reviewed the competency cases of 72 defendants, and found that the most common charges were related to trespassing, drug crimes, simple battery and vandalism.

Some lawyers who practice there guessed that the competency case increase may be related to judges and attorneys having a better understanding of mental illness. The increase could also be caused by a rise in homelessness.

“Is it because more people are mentally ill or is it because more people are jammed into homelessness and commit behaviors that offend the public?” asks Verah Bradford, head deputy public defender at the county’s mental health court.

Court personnel says that the system is strained. Defendants frequently miss hearings, because there’s not enough space in the courthouse holding cells, the article notes, and a month can go by before a defendant gets an evaluation.

“We need three times as many attorneys, three times as many doctors for evaluations and three times as many treatment beds,” says Judge James Bianco, who presides over mental health court hearings. “Of course we have none of this, so everyone is scrambling to keep up.”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.