Mental health law involves assessing a person’s mental capacity and competence, and determining whether or not the person can be deemed mentally incompetent or handicapped. Under mental health law, both criminal and civil suits can be covered and addressed. Different states have their own measuring tools and assessment procedures that they use to determine a person’s mental competence and capacity, and which rights are able to be removed from the person if they are classified as mentally incompetent.
Mental Health Law in the Civil Arena
Civilly speaking, mental health law can be used to help establish whether or not an individual is mentally competent enough to engage in a contract that is legally binding. These types of contracts can include:
- Marriage contracts
- Divorce contracts
- Adoption contracts
- Purchase contracts
- Real estate contracts
- Financial contracts
Any type of contract that is used to solidify an action is a contract that mentally incompetent people – under mental health law – can be prohibited from entering into, unless approved by a mental health practitioner or legal guardian of the individual.
Any assets or finances owned by a person who is deemed mentally incompetent is protected under mental health law. Maintaining control over their finances or valuables can be dangerous, therefore a separate person or entity is usually deemed responsible for the valuables and assets of the mentally incapacitated individual. Most of the time these finances and other assets are placed in a trust fund, and a trustee is generally responsible for handling this trust fund. Generally speaking, these assets in the trust funds are to be used to help pay for any type of care or need that the individual requires in order to live a comfortable life. For example, bills can be paid with this trust fund money, or regular allowances can be provided to the individual to cover any expenses.
Mental Health Law in the Criminal Arena
Mental health law is used in criminal cases to help establish if a person that has been charged with a criminal offense is mentally capable to stand trial for the crime. Many people who have committed crimes have been determined to be mentally incompetent, which resulted in the crime being committed. Under mental health law, tests are conducted on the individual to determine if the person in question is capable of understanding the consequences of the crime he or she committed, as well as the role he or she played in the crime.
Mental health law will also help to determine if the person who committed a crime is able to actively participate in his or her defense, and understand the process of court proceedings. Each state will have its own set of rules and methods as to what constitutes a person’s inability to understand court proceedings and the person’s role in the crime.
Mental Health Law in the Psychiatric Commitment Arena
Mental health law can also help to dictate whether a person who is deemed mentally incompetent can be involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution. A person must be classified as one who poses a danger to themselves and to the public before having their rights stripped away and committing them to a mental health facility.
Certain states have laws that allow an individual to draft up a contract or directive for any future care and actions on the individual should they be deemed mentally incompetent at a future date. For example, a person may draft up an advance directive stating what type of psychiatric facility they’d like to be in, who should care for their estate or trust fund, or how they wish to have their property dispersed.
Mental health law is a caveat that helps to protect both a mentally incompetent person, as well as the public. It is a law that first helps to determine the mental capacity of a person before they are subject to criminal punishment, or enter into a legally binding contract. Mental health law will also protect a mentally incapacitated person’s finances and assets, in situations where others attempt to take advantage of the mentally incompetent individual. Overall, mental health law was put in place to look out for the best interests of both the individual and the society in which he or she lives.