Mental Health Issues and Criminal LawThe Massachusetts Guardianship Association hosted its annual conference at the Social Law Library, in the John Adams Courthouse in Boston. Attorney Vincent Tofani moderated the panel discussion addressing the interplay between mental health and criminal law, including common challenges that practitioners encounter. The panel included representatives from the mental health session, including the Mental Health Court presiding justice, the Honorable Tracy-Lee Lyons, of the Central Division of the Boston Municipal Court. The panel also included representatives from the Sheriff’s Department for Middlesex County; the Department of Probation; a clinician from the Boston Medical Center; and, a staff attorney for the Committee for Public Counsel Services.

The presentation included a robust discussion of the concept of competency, in the context of criminal law, and how that is distinguishable from the standards applied in the probate law context. The panelists presented hypothetical examples, to guide the attendees though the life of a case, discussing the various paths that a case can take, from arrest to final disposition.

Attorney Vincent Tofani The panel shared the history of the Mental Health Court Session at the Central Division of the Boston Municipal Court, including the session’s objectives, challenges and successes. Further discussed, were the potential roles where guardians could assist in the process during the various stages of the criminal proceedings when a question of competency exists. The panel discussion concluded with an active question and answer session, where some strategies were highlighted to improve the channel of communication between guardians; probate attorneys; care providers; and, criminal defense practitioners.

Issues arising from the mental health of individuals facing criminal prosecution are common, and the panel effectively addressed strategies to improve the process of representation in both the probate and criminal court systems.