Indian American doctor Dharmesh Patel may walk free in 2 years if treated for mental health diversion

Ritu Jha–

California-based Indian American doctor Dharmesh Patel, who remains in custody on no-bail status for driving his Tesla off a cliff and allegedly trying to kill his wife and two children, might walk free if the judge permits him to go on ‘suitability for mental health diversion.’

San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe told indica that on July 31, the case was called before Judge Susan Jakubowski (a mental health diversion judge). “She set the case for a formal hearing on the motion for mental health diversion on November 1, 2023. The defendant remains in our county jail on no bail status in the interim,” he said.

Dharmesh A. Patel, of Pasadena, California, was driving the vehicle when it went over the side of a coastal road at a spot known as the Devil’s Slide.

On January 2, 2023, Patel, a radiologist residing in Pasadena, southern California, was driving his Tesla home with his wife Neha Patel, and two children, aged 7 and 4, on Highway One Southbound after a vacation with extended family in Dublin, California.

After leaving the Lantos Tunnel, Patel drove the car uphill at ‘Devil’s Slide’, turned off the highway onto the dirt area and then turned over the cliff and dropped 250 feet into the rocks and surf below.

All four survived and were air-lifted to Stanford Hospital. The motive then was unclear. However, Neha told the emergency worker after she was rescued, Patel “did it on purpose”.

“He’s depressed. He’s a doctor. He said he was going to drive off the cliff. He purposely drove off,” Patel’s wife reportedly told the rescuer.

The radiologist was arrested on January 3 and was jailed on January 20 after being released from Stanford Hospital. On January 30, Patel was charged with three counts of attempted murder along with domestic violence. He has since then pleaded not guilty.

ALSO READ: indica’s complete coverage of the Dharmesh Patel saga

Wagstaffe told indica, “Patel will be put on diversion for two years. If he successfully completes the treatment, and [this law came about three-four years ago,] yes, the charges will be dismissed by the judge. Not something I like, but it is the law.”

Wagstaffe said Patel’s charges will be dismissed and the court has no discretion. “It can be diverted and probably will be the end of this case,” Wagstaffe said.

The Medical Board of California had barred Patel from practicing radiology, but Wagstaffe is not certain he will be able to practice if he is let off after the treatment. “He tried to kill his whole family and he is very mentally ill,” Wagstaffe said.

Wagstaffe informed that not everybody is eligible for mental health diversion. For example, those with murder or sexual assault allegations cannot ask for it. But because Patel’s charges are attempted murder, he can. “He was lucky they all survived,” Wagstaffe said.

He added, “My prosecutors are going to argue against it and he is too dangerous, he should not get this benefit.”

According to an email sent by Wagstaffe, the court has ordered the defense attorney to file the formal motion for diversion by August 18 and the prosecutors to file their opposition by October 13. The defense reply is expected by October 25.

Patel’s defense attorney Joshua Bentley on July 7 made a motion for mental health diversion “pursuant to Penal Code section 1001.36” and indicated the qualifying mental illness is a major depressive disorder.

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