The Supreme Court of South Carolina
RE: Charleston County Mental Health Court
The Charleston County Mental Health Court was established by order of this Court on December 10, 2002.
I FIND that the South Carolina legislature, recognizing the continuing need for and benefits of a Mental Health Court (MHC) program to divert mentally ill persons from jails, enacted the MHC Program Act on June 1, 2015. The Act establishes a MHC Program, to be administered by circuit solicitors and provides that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of South Carolina shall appoint all MHC judges operating pursuant to the Act.
I FURTHER FIND that pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 14-31-40 (2017), the Solicitor for the Ninth Judicial Circuit has moved for an amended order providing the essential administrative framework for the continued operations of the Charleston County MHC under the 2015 Act and the appointment of judges to preside over the court.
I FURTHER FIND that the rapidly increasing number of misdemeanor cases and non-violent felony cases involving mentally ill defendants has contributed to congesting and overburdening of the court dockets in the Charleston County Court system, as well as jail overcrowding.
I FURTHER FIND that there is a recognized need to treat defendants who are qualified to participate in a MHC before a specially trained judge who possesses a unique understanding and ability to efficiently move people from an overcrowded jail system into the mental health system, without compromising the safety of the public.
THEREFORE, pursuant to Article V, Section 4 of the South Carolina Constitution and section 14-31-40,
IT IS ORDERED that the MHC shall continue within Charleston County in the office of the Ninth Circuit Solicitor. Any defendants arrested for misdemeanor or non-violent felony charges, except those charges excluded under the provisions of S.C. Code Ann. § 16-1-130 (2015), who are suffering from a mental illness, and with proper notice given to any victim, shall be transferred to the MHC once they have qualified for admission into the MHC.
No defendants charged with domestic violence will be allowed into MHC, nor will domestic violence charges be pled down to participate in the MHC. No defendants charged with lewd act on a minor may be considered for entry into the MHC. Only selected defendants with a mental health history, charged with certain sexual offenses, may be considered for entry into the MHC. The Solicitor's office shall retain the ability to plead a case down as appropriate under certain facts and circumstances of a particular case.
As a requirement of participation in the MHC, defendants shall have a "no-contact clause" on their bond when a victim is involved. In General Sessions, Municipal and Magistrate cases involving victims, the MHC Coordinator shall be responsible for notifying victims regarding participants' entry or discharge from MHC. The victim's position regarding defendant's entry in the MHC shall be considered, however, the final decision shall be left up to the Solicitor's office and the MHC Multidisciplinary Team.
The Municipal Court Judges, Magistrate Judges or Clerk of Court shall assign or transfer all municipal, magistrate and non-violent felony cases to the MHC once they have qualified for admission into the MHC. The defendants shall be preliminarily qualified at any point in the proceedings, if they previously or currently have been diagnosed by a mental health expert as suffering from a mental illness or have manifested obvious signs of mental illness during arrest or confinement or before any court.
Referrals for transfer to the MHC may be made by any court, the defense attorney, or the State, accompanied by documentation or testimony in support thereof and shall be heard by the MHC Judge, who shall make the final determination of a defendant's eligibility. Transfer of jurisdiction to MHC suspends the time for the defendant's right to a speedy trial and formal discovery, other than the providing of documentation relating to the defendant's mental health status and all available statements and police reports.
The physician or mental health evaluators determine if a defendant is mentally ill, and whether he or she may be eligible for the MHC. If a defendant is eligible for the MHC, all of the defendant's pending misdemeanor cases shall be consolidated and transferred to the MHC judge.
IT IS ORDERED that each defendant shall sign a waiver to enter the MHC, which is a voluntary program. The participant's waiver shall authorize access to all necessary criminal history and mental health history by the MHC Multidisciplinary Team. The participant shall be subject to intensive case management, including medical evaluations, medication compliance, psychotherapy, supervised living, substance abuse counseling, court sanctions, and other related social services.
IT IS ORDERED that Magistrate and Municipal Court defendants entering MHC shall enter the program for a period of not less than three (3) months and no longer than twelve (12) months, depending on the potential sentencing aspect of jail time relating to the alleged criminal offenses the defendant is facing. Magistrate and Municipal Court defendants who enter MHC and successfully complete the program shall have the charges precipitating their entry into the program nolle prossed or dismissed.
IT IS ORDERED that defendants charged with General Sessions offenses entering MHC shall enter the program for a period of not less than twelve (12) months. Defendants charged with General Sessions offenses who enter MHC and successfully complete the program shall have a conviction for the charges precipitating their entry into the program, however their participation in MHC shall be considered as their sentence, or part of their sentence depending upon what they have pled to and what they have been sentenced.
IT IS ORDERED that if a defendant transferred from General Sessions Court fails to complete MHC, or decides to quit or opt out of MHC, the defendant's case shall be transferred for disposition back to General Sessions Court.
IT IS ORDERED that if a defendant transferred from Municipal Court or Magistrate Court fails to complete MHC or decides to quit or opt out of MHC, the defendant's case shall be transferred for disposition back to Municipal Court or Magistrate's Court as previously designated by the Chief Magistrate.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Honorable Irvin G. Condon, Probate Judge for Charleston County, or the Honorable Peter A. Kouten, or the Honorable Lenna S. Kirchner, or the Honorable David L. Michel, all of whom are duly appointed Associate Probate Judges for Charleston County are hereby assigned to preside over the Charleston County MHC for the Ninth Judicial Circuit. Pursuant to this assignment, Judge Condon or Judge Kirchner, or Judge Kouten, or Judge Michel shall be responsible for coordinating the role of the judiciary with the functions of the Charleston County Mental Health Center, Ninth Circuit Solicitor's Office, Charleston County Magistrate's Court, City Municipal Courts located in Charleston County, Charleston County General Sessions Court, private mental health care providers, and the Charleston County Sheriff's Department. Judge Condon or Judge Kirchner, or Judge Kouten, or Judge Michel shall be responsible for presiding over the courtroom proceedings involving the MHC, the imposition of sanctions on participants as he/she deems appropriate, the modifications of bond orders, and the termination from the program for non-compliance with its terms and conditions.
This order is effective immediately and remains in effect unless amended or rescinded by the Chief Justice.
s/Donald W. Beatty
Donald W. Beatty
Chief Justice of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina
June 1, 2023