Mental Health Court


In the 1980s mental health courts developed to address the overrepresentation of mentally ill individuals in the criminal justice system with the understanding that defendants with mental illness have unique needs. Mental health courts divert select defendants into judicially supervised community-based treatment resources. They are supported through mental health assessments, individualized treatment programs, and ongoing judicial supervision. Modeled after drug courts, mental health courts aim to promote public safety and reduce the criminalization of persons with mental illness.

Snohomish County Mental Health Court (MHC) instituted its pilot program on October 4, 2014. The planning involved key players across the county, using a collaborative approach to create an effective working pilot program. The program is voluntary and select defendants with misdemeanor offenses are referred to MHC by a variety of sources. The program’s pilot status changed to that of a permanent program after two years. 

In a regular criminal case processing, defendants often interact with multiple defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges, which is an approach that often creates barriers that prevent the court from identifying and addressing the unique needs of the mentally ill defendant.  Mentally ill defendants often spend unnecessary time in jail and, lacking access to mental health treatment services upon release, often become repeat offenders and cycle through the system all over again.  MHC aims to interject this cycle by diverting these defendants to community based treatment and support resources.


The Mental Health Court (MHC) represents an effort to increase cooperation between the criminal justice system and the mental health treatment system in a non-adversarial setting.  The program aims to achieve the following outcomes for defendants with mental illness:  faster and meaningful case processing time, improved access to public mental health treatment services, improved well-being, and reduced recidivism.  An important outcome to be achieved from this program for the larger community is improved public safety.  


  • Only select misdemeanant defendants diagnosed with an “Axis I” diagnosis may be referred to MHC. Axis I diagnoses included but are not limited to: schizophrenia, major depressive, PTSD, anxiety, anxiety disorder, etc.
  • Defendants are referred to Mental Health Court (MHC) from a variety of different sources -- by attorneys, law enforcement, family members, medical / treatment professionals, or jail psychiatric staff.  
  • Each new referral to MHC will be evaluated and staffed by the Court Team consisting of the Judge, Defense Attorney, Prosecuting Attorney, and Court Counselor. The Court Team reserves the right to not accept cases into its jurisdiction if a person does not meet eligibility criteria.    
  • Participation in the 12-24 month program is voluntary.  Defendants will be asked to waive their rights to a trial on the merits of the case and enter into an agreement to complete treatment and follow all conditions of the court.  The Court Team will provide guidance and support as the participant work toward program and treatment goals.  
  • The Court holds hearings on alternating Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30 a.m., in District Court, Everett.  The Court Counselor is present at all court hearings and is responsible to link the participant with appropriate services and to develop effective treatment plans and goals with the participant and treatment agency.  In addition to Court Team staffings occurring immediately prior to court, new case referrals are discussed at Court Team staffings.  
  • Participants who successfully complete the program get their criminal charge(s) dismissed.

Referral Information

  • If you believe that a case is appropriate for MHC, you can email a copy of the MHC Referral Form to the MHC Court.
  • To be referred to and to participate in MHC, a client must be legally competent. Make sure any competency-related issues are resolved before referring your client to MHC.
  • Upon receiving the referral, the individual will be screened for legal and clinical eligibility. Certain crimes such as DUI, physical control, any domestic violence crime where the victim objects to MHC, communicating with a minor for immoral purposes, and assault IV with sexual motivation are presumed to be legally ineligible. The individual must have a severe and persistent mental health diagnosis defined as an Axis I disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). The individual must also be “amenable” to treatment.
  • The MHC team will staff each case to discuss the individual’s legal and clinical eligibility.