Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Going Mental

A lot of public defenders will tell you that our clients are crazy.  Ok.  Sure.

But then we're like, "no seriously, dude is crazy."

Here's what is fun about trying to practice ethically when your client is a nut: The rules are essentially out the window.

Seriously, look it up.  If the client is under a disability you have to act in their best interest and possibly find them a guardian.  Screw that.  My client is facing a criminal record for listening to the voice of God.

Oh, Idaho doesn't have an insanity defense.  Did I forget to mention that?

Even if we did, I was taught that your crazy client may keep you from pursuing that claim.  I can imagine that might be the case if your client is just sane enough to get you off his case.

Anyway, the insanity defense is out of the picture.  But I and my fellows carry caseloads where some percentage is going to be nuts.  What is one to do?

Generally, you ignore it.  Look, we know the judge and the prosecutors.  If you can keep your client together long enough to enter a guilty plea to a lesser charge, you generally do it.  Again, they have no defense- God is not a defense in Idaho.

Now you might think- yeah but if you tell the prosecutor he'll get it.  Sure, sometimes.  Sometimes not.  Even the best ones will decide that this is a great way to get across to your client that he needs to take his meds.  Which is like "?" seeing as how, dude, the guy is crazy.

Which is why most of the time you just factor crazy out.  You pursue the case as if all were fine, you fight the facts, get the reasonable offer.  You see if your client will take it.  Most of the time they will, because almost all of them find courtrooms provoke a lot of anxiety.  In fact, you can have a great defense for them, and a lot of them will take a plea anyway.  Just to get away.  Which is pretty sad.

But wait!  You're supposed to look out for their best interest!

Uh..?  Define that one for me.  I fight for drug addicts to be free knowing full well their next hit could be their last on a daily basis.  If a mentally ill person can take a plea to disturbing the peace and walk out of court with a fine, that's a win.  That person does not want to spend the next few months in a hospital being force fed drugs.  They don't want to go to jail.  Did he pull his pants down and shake it at the little old lady?  Sure.  Did he think she was his wife and that his actions were inspired by the divine?  Yes indeedy.  I pled him to a nonregisterable offense, and now he has an obligation to pay 200 bucks should he ever have any money.  Might he go off and hurt himself?  Fuck if I know.

I'm the guy's attorney.  Not his fucking guardian angel.

While we're on the subject though, what about the hospital?  What about "mental commitments?"  Yeah I do those.

Here's what you do- go to the hospital.  Meet client.  See if they are ok.  If not, go find the doctor.  See if he thinks they'll be ok.  Where I work, this may not be possible, so you may need to set out the hearing so you can subpoena him.  He will call you and beg you to not have to come to court.  Anyway, you go to hearing if your client doesn't want to stay anymore (which is generally true).  You make it abundantly clear that the "designated examiner" with the masters in social work has not the slightest clue whether the mental illness is actually causing the symptoms or if it is the meds or the meth or what.  The judge will shrug and commit them anyway.

Two months later, the state will say they can't do anything more and let them out, blinking, into the sun.

Let's say you appeal the ruling (did you ask your client after the hearing if he'd like to appeal?  you better.  the guy just lost his gun rights.).  Now you have a mootness issue.  But it isn't moot, because of his gun rights.  Never forget his gun rights.

And you fight.  And you fight and you fight and you fight.  And somehow you still find time for the rest of your caseload.

So it goes.

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