Abstract

http://ssrn.com/abstract=2221443
 


 



'The Judge, He Cast His Robe Aside': Mental Health Courts, Dignity and Due Process


Michael L. Perlin


New York Law School

February 17, 2013

Journal of Mental Health Law & Policy, 2013
NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 12/13 #53
NYLS Clinical Research Institute Paper No. 31/2012

Abstract:     
One of the most important developments in the past two decades in the way that criminal defendants with mental disabilities are treated in the criminal process has been the creation and the expansion of mental health courts, one kind of “problem-solving court.” There are now over 300 such courts in operation in the United States, some dealing solely with misdemeanors, some solely with non-violent offenders, and some with no such restrictions. There is a wide range of dispositional alternatives available to judges in these cases, and an even wider range of judicial attitudes. And the entire concept of “mental health courts” is certainly not without controversy.

These courts offer a new approach – perhaps a radically new approach – to the problems at hand. They become even more significant because of their articulated focus on dignity, as well as their embrace of therapeutic jurisprudence, their focus on procedural justice, and their use of the principles of restorative justice. It is time to restructure the dialogue about mental health courts and to begin to take seriously the potential ameliorative impact of such courts on the ultimate disposition of all cases involving criminal defendants with mental disabilities.

There has been much written about these courts, but little attention has been paid to two issues that must be considered seriously: the quality of counsel available to persons in mental health courts, and the question of whether the individual is competent to engage in mental health court proceedings. These are both discussed extensively in this paper.

Much of the recent debate on mental health courts has focused either on empirical studies of recidivism or on theorization. This entire discussion, while important and helpful, bypasses the critical issue that is at the heart of this paper: do such courts provide additional dignity to the criminal justice process or do they detract from that? Until we re-focus our sights on this issue, much of the discourse on this topic remains wholly irrelevant.

In Part I of this paper, I first discuss the underpinnings of therapeutic jurisprudence. Next, in Part II, I look at the structure of mental health courts, and then raise the two concerns about such courts that are, I believe, of particular relevance to which I just alluded: questions of adequacy of counsel and the competency of defendants to voluntarily participate in such court proceedings. In Part III, I then consider the role of dignity in this process, and look to ways that therapeutic jurisprudence can promote dignity in this context.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 45

Keywords: mental health courts, problem-solving courts, dignity, therapeutic jurisprudence, counsel, competency, criminal procedure, mental disability law

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Date posted: February 23, 2013  

Suggested Citation

Perlin, Michael L., 'The Judge, He Cast His Robe Aside': Mental Health Courts, Dignity and Due Process (February 17, 2013). NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 12/13 #53; Journal of Mental Health Law & Policy, 2013; NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 12/13 #53; NYLS Clinical Research Institute Paper No. 31/2012. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2221443

Contact Information

Michael L. Perlin (Contact Author)
New York Law School ( email )
185 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013
United States
212-431-2183 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://www.nyls.edu/bios/perlin.html
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