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Defendants with mental health obstacles are, sadly, the most likely to slip through the cracks of the criminal justice system. Often times, these individuals self-medicate. This leads to a “dual-diagnosis,” where a person is both struggling with a mental health issue and a substance use issue. The demands of feeding an addiction exacerbate and accelerate a destructive downward spiral. Individuals quickly find themselves homeless and facing criminal charges.

Persons in this situation are rarely successful at helping themselves. They are their worst advocates, as their addiction and/or their mental illness drives many of their decisions. In many cases, this person is not violent or a danger to the community. Instead, their actions constitute crimes that are more accurately described as a nuisance rather than a harm. For this reason, there begins a revolving-door relationship with the criminal justice system. The person is arrested, is detained for a few days, and released at their first court date with a guilty plea and probation.

A sentence to probation with any affirmative conditions and requirements set up a person with a dual-diagnosis for failure. Thus, without committing a new offense, this person can find himself or herself back in jail on a warrant for a probation violation. A court issues a warrant if a person fails to complete a term of probation. This person may also be in trouble for violating a stay away order or another term of probation.


Family members suffer alongside their loved one. When a parent, child, or sibling is ill and addicted, these problems impact their family as well. It is very difficult to see where helping their loved one becomes enabling their loved one’s addiction. The pain can become intolerable. Family members fear the worst and spend sleepless nights worrying about the safety of their loved one. Their efforts to help are rebuffed or, more often, abused.

Worst of all, family members have almost no voice in the criminal justice system. They lack information because navigating the system is difficult and time-consuming. Additionally, much of the information may be confidential. Their loved one’s attorney has a duty and obligation to represent the wishes and goals of their client. However, these wishes and goals can often be in direct conflict with the best interests of the client.

For example, if an individual is in need of residential treatment, he or she is unlikely to elect treatment unless it is an alternative to jail time. However, custody is not an appropriate sanction for the criminal offense. The offer from the District Attorney, therefore, is a much more attractive option to the loved one than attending a program. The attorney, acting on behalf of their client’s wishes, assists their client in pleading guilty and getting out of jail. Rarely in this process does a family member have a voice or a vote in the overall outcome of the case.

In large part, this is because no formal procedure exists to listen to family members who are not direct victims of their loved ones. The courtroom is bustling and the prosecutors and defense attorneys are extremely busy. They simply cannot stop and talk to family members in every case- otherwise the court would never finish on time!

Gerstenzang Law will help you bridge this gap. Family members are often the strongest advocates for their loved ones. It is important the Court hear their voices. To do this, Gerstenzang Law launched Family Advocacy and Legal Coaching for Families. These services effectively and efficiently guide families through the criminal procedure.


Jennifer Gerstenzang offers Family Advocacy as a way to assist families who wish to communicate with the court. Jennifer talks to family members about their goals for their loved one. Are there treatment programs that are appropriate? What resources are available to help their family member? What significant and pressing obstacles need to be addressed, first?

Gerstenzang Law strategizes with a family to help their loved one achieve long-term success. Why wait until a loved one is in serious trouble to find them the help they desperately need? Often times, an attorney does not know the resources or the efforts a family has made on their loved one’s behalf. Jennifer Gerstenzang contacts the involved parties to make sure they know pertinent information. She will contact the defense attorney or district attorney to discuss the matter. When appropriate, she can even go to court to assist all parties in deciding the best resolution.

The Court and the Attorneys involved in the case are looking to find the right solution in the matter. They just may not have all the information they need to get to the best plan of action. Gerstenzang Law works with families and the Court to find an outcome and plan for success.


Some families are not ready to take such an active role in the court proceedings. Instead, many families want only to understand the court process. Or, families want to know what they can do outside of the court process to help their loved one.

In a Legal Coaching session for families, Jennifer answers questions and addresses concerns. Jennifer prepares a family for the next stages of the case. Once a family feels confident they understand the process, Jennifer can help them decide what to do next to support their loved one.

Feeling powerless when a loved one is in trouble is agonizing. Call today to learn how you can take positive action through Family Advocacy and Legal Coaching for Families.

Interested in learning more?

Schedule a consultation with san diego attorney jennifer gerstenzang today.

HEar what Clients have to say

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John G.

"From the first phone call to the final resolution, Jennifer was proactive, professional, compassionate and effective. If you are looking for one of the best attorneys in SoCal, I strongly suggest reaching out to Jennifer"

Liam C.

“Professional, conscientious and positive throughout the experience. She would always return e-mails and phone calls promptly, and even went to the physical location of my citation and printed out a google map of the landscape to understand the situation more thoroughly. Highly reocmmended.”

Nikki s.

“Jennifer is an incredible defense attorney. She advocates for her clients in a way that is both zealous and compassionate. She takes the time to counsel her clients so that they truly understand their options.”

Michele K.

“Working with Jennifer Gerstenzang is an absolute delight.  Her passion for, and dedication to helping her clients achieve the most desirable outcome is inspiring. Not only is she brilliant, but she truly cares about her clients and makes sure they are treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve..”

Vicki s.

"When I needed laser legal focus through coaching Jennifer was there to help. Her professionalism and caring attitude for her clients is remarkable. I highly recommend this talented legal professional!"