Representing the Mentally Ill (Part Two)

But, you MUST also speak to client’s relatives to get a better understanding. We lawyers all dread getting repeated phone calls from family members and friends of inmates asking us the same questions over and over. However, you cannot isolate yourself completely from your client’s family and put up the “ethical” shield of not discussing their case. If their family acts “crazy” towards you, that can be a big clue to look into your client’s mental health. The apple doesn’t usually fall far from the tree.

Plus, the law states clearly that you have a duty to investigate ALL aspects of your client’s case and to zealously represent them accordingly. Not investing mental health and mental retardation facts regarding your client is a HUGE way to get found ineffective down the road. If you rely on court appointments for a living, this can cut of your ability to take court appointments for a year (and longer if the judge presiding blocks you indefinitely). Do not risk your livelihood, key sources of income, and especially your client’s well being by being pressured into a quick plea when there are concerns about mental health. The state has an interest in a valid conviction, too.

Cops look for low hanging fruit. Thus, the mentally ill and intellectually borderline or deficient are often found in their trap more easily compared to high functioning men and women. High functioners are less likely to commit crimes, and more likely to avoid detection. Also, people with mental illness “self medicate” with addicting drugs so they can both “feel better” and remain in denial of their mental health status. Drugs lead to crime. A long drug history is a clue that there might be a mental illness problem. Again, NOBODY wants to be known as a person with serious mental illness. It is not only a disability but a social stigma. You have to find out for yourself and for your client’s best interest what mental illness or retardation they may have and how it can help their case. Don’t want to do this? Find another job.

Want to do this? Well, sometimes it is easy and sometimes it ain’t. Family members and friends are the best sources of material regarding your client’s background. How did they do in school? Ask momma. How did they behave growing up? Ask momma. Did they have special needs in school? Ask momma. Did you ever take them to a doctor or counselor? Ask momma. Of course, Daddy may know too and I am not trying to be biased, but often our clients are in orange jumpsuits because Daddy OR both Daddy and Momma or sometimes just Momma wasn’t around. Lack of parenting leads to a higher risk of behavioral problems, thus a higher risk of ending up in county jail. Your client’s mitigation case is begging for you to find it.