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Dismissing Criminal Matters for Mental Health Reasons

The Local Court has refused to dismiss criminal proceedings brought against Lauryn Eagle after she applied for them to be dismissed on a mental health basis.

Eagle had been charged with drug driving after she was caught driving with ice in her system. When the matter came before the court, her lawyers asked the magistrate to consider dismissing the matter under section 32 of the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act 1990.

This is a provision that allows a court, where it considers it appropriate to do so, to dismiss a matter without proceedings to determining guilt or innocence. It also avoids the risk of the court sentencing the accused for the offence in question. The court can take this course when it is satisfied that the person is cognitively impaired, or suffering from a mental illness or a mental condition.

If the application is refused, the matter remains for determination by the court in the ordinary fashion.

In considering this provision, the court has as its primary consideration two often contradictory public interests. The first is the public’s interest in diverting persons suffering from mental health issues towards treatment rather than criminal punishment. The second interest is the public’s interest in persons facing appropriate criminal penalties for offences they have committed.

In weighing those interests, there are a number of factors the court can take into account when deciding whether to deal with a matter in this way.

The seriousness of the allegation is an important starting point. All things being equal, the more serious the allegation made against the applicant, the less likely the court is going to consider it appropriate to deal with a matter under section 32.

The court will also consider the nature of the mental illness that the applicant suffers from, and whether there is any relationship between the alleged offending and the mental condition. This goes to the appropriateness of the matter being dismissed in this way.

Finally, the court is also likely to closely examine the treatment plan proposed by the applicant’s mental health professional. The court will want to see that there is a clear plan of action to ensure that the applicant receives treatment and that the community is protected from further offending.

In the case of Lauryn Eagle, the court rejected the application, and proceeded to convict, fine and disqualify her. This is not uncommon in driving matters, as the court frequently considers that the prevalence of driving offences mean that it is not appropriate to dismiss matters under section 32.

Ms Eagle has the option of an appeal open to her, and may well consider taking that course.

Image Credit – Iakov Filimonov ©

Written by Andrew Tiedt on May 17, 2018

Andrew is a Partner in the Criminal Law team at Armstrong Legal, and is one of the small number of solicitors in New South Wales recognized as being an Accredited Specialist in Criminal Law. Andrew handles many of our most complex and difficult cases. He also appears in matters where experience and finesse are particularly important. View Andrew's profile

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