A Nevada County man accused of assaulting a jogger will receive psychiatric care through a pretrial diversion program instead of facing prison time, benefiting from a 2018 law that attorneys say is changing how defendants with mental illnesses are being prosecuted.
Kaden Bryan Warner, 21, who was arrested for a felony charge of false imprisonment in 2019, has been ordered by a Nevada County Superior Court judge to complete two years of mental health diversion treatment. All charges against Warner will be dropped after the two years if he completes his treatment program without incident, according to Deputy District Attorney Casey Ayer.
Warner, who suffers from a mental illness, was deemed eligible for treatment in accordance with California Penal Code 1001.36, which was approved by state lawmakers in 2018. Under the new law, individuals accused of certain offenses, including violent felonies, can be redirected pretrial to receive treatment, instead of facing a conviction and possible sentence, Ayer said.
For defendants to be eligible under the law, they must be determined to be suffering from a qualifying mental illness, and cannot be facing charges of exceptionally heinous crimes such as murder or violent rape, Ayer said. If the defendant qualifies, their legal counsel must then submit a motion for diversion to the presiding judge, which the prosecution can either oppose or allow.
Since the statute was enacted in 2018, prosecutors in Nevada County have felt its impact, as a significant number of defendants who would have otherwise faced convictions and sentencing have been sent to treatment programs instead, Ayer said.
“It’s really been noticeable, as defense attorneys are now seeking this motion a lot more. This law has had a large impact on our office’s cases, primarily on felony cases,” she said.
In Warner’s case, his counsel — Public Defender Keri Klein — asked the presiding judge to accept Warner into 1001.36 diversion, rather than allowing him to stand trial for charges that could have led to three years in prison. Prosecutors chose not to contest the motion, as they determined that Warner was not a significant threat to the public and stood to improve from professional treatment for his mental illness, Ayer said.
“When it came to Kaden Warner’s case, basically what we had was a very young man who clearly dealt with really serious mental illnesses from the time he was young, and he was also homeless, and none of his issues had been treated,” Ayer said.
While Warner already had a history of violent offenses, including multiple past assault cases, Ayer said that he clearly was incapable of comprehending his actions in these incidents, and required substantive psychiatric care instead of more time behind bars.
“Getting him (Warner) into diversion gives him access to some pretty significant behavioral health resources. We looked at this and said we could get a conviction without services, or hook him up with a program where he’ll be getting services for two years.”
Klein said that the 2018 diversion statute was a significant step toward reforming how the criminal justice system deals with the mentally ill, and expressed her belief that the law would help prevent recidivism by giving defendants with mental disorders access to long-term behavioral health care.
“We have seen a growth in the number of mentally ill individuals in the criminal system over the last decade. The criminal system however, has not changed its design and as such, it is not equipped to deal with mental illness,” Klein said, adding that recidivism studies indicate that psychiatric care, rather than prison time, is what helps keep defendants such as Warner from becoming repeat offenders.
“Statistically, those who go to prison have higher recidivism rates than those who do not. That has been shown in study after study…PC 1001.36 acknowledges that for people with mental illness whose mental illness was a significant factor in the alleged offense, treatment is the best option,” she said.
While the District Attorney’s Office determined that pretrial diversion was appropriate in Warner’s case, Ayer said that some defendants benefit unjustly from the statute. In some cases prosecuted by her office, Ayer said that individuals accused of felonies have avoided consequences commensurate with their crimes through diversion, even in instances where such defendants presented a risk to the public.
“What we are seeing occasionally is that people are taking advantage of the diversion program. Once they are charged with a crime, then they get a diagnosis…it’s just unusual. One reason we oppose these motions is that there is often a lack of diagnosis and treatment in the defendant’s past.” Ayer said that if there is no such prior history of the illness, prosecutors often suspect that defendants are taking advantage of the statute.
One such case Ayer mentioned was that of Raphael Michael Mijares, 50, of Grass Valley, who was accused of assaulting his ex-wife with a vehicle in 2019. The defense attorney in the case put a motion forward for 1001.36 diversion, which prosecutors opposed, but the motion was ultimately approved and Mijares went into the diversion program in May 2020, according to his defense attorney, Jennifer Granger.
Due to what Ayer called Mijares’s history of drug abuse and violent behavior, the District Attorney’s Office did not believe he should have been eligible for diversion.
Granger disputed that characterization, calling her client nonviolent.
In deciding whether or not to oppose 1001.36 motions, prosecutors often consider the age and history of the defendant. Warner’s youth played a factor in the prosecution’s decision to allow him into diversion treatment — conversely, Mijares was treated differently, as an older offender with a criminal history, Ayer said.
Warner, jailed since October 2019, entered the diversion program on May 25.
He was originally charged with false imprisonment and battery in 2019, after police say he assaulted a female jogger, grabbing her and apparently trying to throw her into traffic. Two bystanders were able to stop Warner and free the woman, and he was arrested.
The woman who Warner allegedly attacked supported the prosecution’s decision to allow the pretrial diversion and not seek prison time, Ayer said.
Stephen Wyer is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at [email protected]