Toronto mental illness and the lawThis section is primarily for family members or friends of persons with mental illness who have run afoul of the criminal law.  We have extensive experience representing persons who are mentally ill, and are well aware of the issues:  non-compliance with medication, lack of services in the mental health sector, and, many times, lack of appropriate housing.

We recognize the frustration and sadness that family members feel when they have a loved one who cannot or will not obtain the proper medication and/or counseling for their mental illness.  Schizophrenia is a common diagnosis connected to persons with mental illness who are charged with a criminal offense.  This mental illness can be successfully treated in 99% of cases, however, non-compliance with medication is a common symptom of the illness.

Our goal is to (1) if it is appropriate in the circumstances, secure the release on bail of the client with a mental illness, with appropriate conditions, one of which will be to require he or she to take his or her medication, (2) secure the services of mental health professionals who will focus on long-term strategies aimed at addressing issues such as housing, medication compliance, life-skills training, substance abuse counseling (if necessary), and, ultimately, (3) securing the best possible resolution of the charges.

As mentioned above, substance abuse- addiction to drugs and/or alcohol- is common to persons with mental illness.  The use or abuse of so-called “street drugs” is a way for a person with a mental illness to “self-medicate”, to escape the reality of their delusional existence.  The problem is that the use of “street drugs”, or drugs not medically prescribed, worsens the mental health of the person with a mental illness by altering their brain chemistry and increasing the delusions that cause them to be detached from reality.

Often, persons with mental illness who are charged with criminal offenses face charges of possession of marijuana or cocaine, or even trafficking (selling or “dealing”) or possession for the purposes of trafficking in marijuana or cocaine, the latter to support their habit. Other common charges are assault, mischief (damage to property), robbery, breach of court orders (fail to comply with probation or fail to comply with recognizance (bail conditions)), uttering death threats, and property offenses such as theft and possession of stolen property.

It is our experience that a period of non-compliance with medication leads to a person with a mental illness to be charged with a criminal offense such as assault, threatening, or mischief.  Sometimes, more serious charges are encountered, such a murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault, or weapons offenses.  We are well-equipped to handle all types of offenses under the criminal code or controlled drugs and substances act, especially when it comes to representing an accused with a mental illness.

We appear regularly before the mental health courts in the Greater Toronto Area, especially the mental health court at Old City Hall courthouse in Toronto, which, incidentally, is the only full-time mental health court in Canada.  This latter court has a team of professionals- social workers, counselors, mental health workers, street workers, etc.- who we work with to secure our clients’ release and eventual return to mental health.

There are a number of provisions of the criminal code (see excerpts below) that address the procedure to be followed when an accused person with a mental illness comes before the criminal courts.  Essentially, there are two legal issues that arise which bring these provisions into play.  One, if there is a question as to whether the accused person was not criminally responsible (previously referred to as “insanity” or “not guilty by reason of insanity”) for their actions due to a mental illness, there are provisions that allow court-ordered remands to a psychiatric facility for the purposes of assessing whether the accused, at the time he or she committed the offense(s) understood the nature and quality of the act or that it was wrong.

If the accused is ultimately found to have not been criminally responsible for his or her actions, the mentally ill accused person can be sent to a hospital or will be allowed to live in the community under supervision.  The result (or “disposition”) usually depends on whether the mentally ill person (see Section 672.54 of the Criminal Code) can be managed in the community.  Again, this usually involves an assessment of risk that takes into consideration protection of the public.  Much depends on the nature and seriousness of the charge(s), whether the accused person with a mental illness is taking his or her medication, and, if he or she has a drug or alcohol addiction, is complying with treatment and counseling.   We have extensive experience with connecting persons with mental illnesses to the appropriate agencies to address these and other issues that relate to managing their illness in the community.

If the person with a mental illness cannot be managed in the community, we will ensure that he or she is treated fairly at the institution where he or she resides, and we will work with their treatment team towards a plan for his or her eventual reintegration into society.

We sympathize with family members and friends who are experiencing the stress, anxiety, and pain that they feel for a loved-one who suffers from the ravages of mental illness.  Having said that, we strongly believe- through our over 65 years of combined experience as criminal lawyers representing persons suffering from mental illness- that we can work with you, the Courts, and your loved-one, to secure the help that he or she needs to get better.

We are well aware of the fact that persons with a mental illness can lead a happy and productive life if they can get the help they need.  We know that you only want what is best for your loved one, and we have a proven track record demonstrating clearly that, if you hire a criminal lawyer with experience in the field of mental illness and the criminal law, we can bring peace and harmony back to your life.

There are some situations where a person with a mental illness who is charged with a criminal offense is so unwell that he or she may not be able to understand the nature of the proceedings in court.  Such a person, if so found, is deemed “unfit to stand trial”.  Of utmost importance is the need for a person who may be unfit to stand trial (or who is found by the court to be “unfit to stand trial”) to immediately receive medication via a “treatment order” for up to 60 days in a psychiatric hospital (see Section 672.58 of the Criminal Code, excerpted below).  We are very experienced in addressing this issue, especially in the challenges facing the need to receive treatment as soon as possible.

Please feel free to call us anytime to discuss any matters that pertain to a person with a mental illness who is charged with a criminal offense.

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