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California Court of Appeal Announces Suffering From a Nonqualifying Mental Disorder While Also Suffering From a Qualifying Disorder Does Not Bar Eligibility for Mental Health Diversion Under § 1001.36

by Anthony W. Accurso

The Court of Appeal of California, Fifth Appellate District, vacated a trial court’s decision to deny a defendant participation in mental health diversion, ruling that a diagnosis of Antisocial-Personality Disorder (“ASPD”)—an excluded condition under the statute—does not disqualify him because he was also diagnosed with at least one qualifying condition, i.e., a disqualifying condition doesn’t operate as a blanket bar for eligibility.

Juan Miguel Negron was facing charges of assault with a deadly weapon (a car) and felony evasion of a police officer following two separate events in 2020. Prosecutors also charged Negron under California’s three strikes law, Penal Code § 667, subds. (b)-(i), for having two prior felony convictions.

On March 25, 2021, Negron underwent a psychological evaluation. Dr. Musacco reviewed various records, including Negron’s “mental health records from California Correctional Health Care Services, and [Negron’s] criminal rap sheet.” Dr. Musacco diagnosed Negron with “(1) stimulant use disorder, in remission in a controlled environment; (2) unspecified schizophrenia spectrum disorder; (3) borderline intellectual functioning; and (4) ASPD.” He opined that Negron’s problems with drug abuse and schizophrenia would be amenable to treatment. He further opined that all four of his disorders combine to influence his behavior and decision making and that none of them can be separated from the others.

Based on these diagnoses, Negron filed a motion seeking mental health diversion under Penal Code § 1001.36. He sought diversion because: “‘[P]retrial diversion’ means the postponement of prosecution, either temporarily or permanently, at any point in the judicial process from the point at which the accused is charged until adjudication, to allow the defendant to undergo mental health treatment.” § 1001.36(c). After no more than two years of diversion, if the defendant performs satisfactorily in treatment and commits no additional crimes, “the court shall dismiss the defendant’s criminal charges.” § 1001.36(e).

There are six requirements for diversion listed in § 1001.36(b)(1)(A)-(F), all of which must be satisfied to be eligible for diversion. § 1001.36(a). The first requirement is that the court must be “satisfied that the defendant suffers from a mental disorder as identified in the most recent edition of the [DSM], including, but not limited to, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder, but excluding [ASPD], borderline personality disorder, and pedophilia.” § 1001.36(b)(1)(A).

The second requirement is the defendant’s mental disorder “was a significant factor in the commission of the charged offense.” § 1001.36(b)(1)(B). The third requirement is that a “qualified mental health expert” opine that “the defendant’s symptoms of the mental disorder motivating the criminal behavior would respond to mental health treatment.” § 1001.36(b)(1)(C). The fourth requirement is for the defendant to consent to diversion and waive his rights to a speedy trial. § 1001.36(b)(1)(D). The fifth requirement is for the defendant to agree to “comply with treatment as a condition of diversion.” § 1001.36(b)(1)(E). And the final requirement is that the court must be “satisfied that the defendant will not pose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety … if treated in the community.” § 1001.36(b)(1)(F).

The trial court concluded that Negron met all six requirements but nevertheless denied his motion for diversion. The trial court ruled that he was statutorily ineligible for diversion because ASPD is an excluded condition, and even though he suffered from three other eligible conditions, the ASPD barred his eligibility. Negron appealed.

On appeal, Negron argued that the trial court erred in ruling that ASPD operates as a blank bar on eligibility for diversion even though he suffers from eligible conditions. The Attorney General agreed with Negron on this issue.

The Court framed the issue as “whether a person diagnosed with both qualifying and excluded mental health disorders is statutorily ineligible for diversion.”

The Court concluded that Negron is not statutorily ineligible for diversion. It explained that a plain reading of statute in question, i.e., § 1001.36(b)(1)(A)—the first requirement, indicates that a defendant simply has to establish that he suffers from “a mental disorder” listed in the statute to be eligible. The statute provides a non-exhaustive list of qualifying disorders as well as a list of excluded disorders, explained the Court. A defendant need only show at least one qualifying disorder for eligibility under the statute. Nothing in the statute bars eligibility if a defendant has both a qualifying and a nonqualifying conditions; he would still be eligible because he has at least one qualifying condition, the Court instructed. Finally, the Court reasoned that if the Legislature wanted to exclude individuals suffering from both types of conditions, it would have excluded persons with any of the excluded disorders, rather than simply listing excluded disorders. Thus, the Court ruled that Negron was not ineligible for diversion simply because he suffered from a nonqualifying condition while also suffered from qualifying conditions.

However, the Court stated that because the trial court ended its analysis with the first requirement for diversion, it failed to consider other relevant requirements such as “whether the qualified disorders were significant factors in the commission of the offenses and whether the qualified disorders motivating the criminal behavior were treatable.” § 1001.36(b)(1)(B) and (C).

Accordingly, the Court of Appeal vacated the trial court’s denial of Negron’s motion for diversion and remanded the case with an order for a new hearing on the remaining requirements. See: Negron v. Superior Court, 70 Cal. App. 5th 1007 (2021). 

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Related legal case

Negron v. Superior Court

 

 

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