That's Not What Spiderman Says

It's going to sound crazy, but one of my favorite parts of the job is the mentally ill clients. No, seriously.

Sometimes their bizarre stories amuse me or brighten my day. I'm not saying that I sit and laugh at them, that would be insensitive, but it can be a nice little break from the usual client interview. And, most of the time, they don't have anyone to listen to them (and there are some lawyers who shut them up as soon as they get picture that the person is crazy), so I let them talk a little. And sometimes I think that it might help me uncover something about their mental illness or their crime. For example, a client who denies any mental health history might "accidentally" mention a doctor, or a hospital stay.

Every mentally ill client is different, every story is different, every delusion is different. But I love hearing them all.

One of my favorite things is that clients have these ideas, that they think are just so novel. Things that it must have really taken them some time to figure out.

Like a client today who took the time to explain to me, very carefully:
You have to be careful out here. There's a lot of dangerous things to watch out for. For example, let's say you're on the third floor of one building. And they tell you that you have to go the third floor of the building across the street. To get your medicine. Or for anything really. You would think it would be inefficient to go downstairs, then cross the street, then go back up the stairs. Inefficient means like wasting time. That doesn't make any sense. But you didn't know that you can't just jump across the street. It's too far. You saw it on the movies, people jumping on the buildings and across the street. But, in real life, you shouldn't even try. At least, I don't think so. Maybe if it was a close building. On a small street. Like a little one way street. And probably not from the window. You'd probably have to go up to the roof. But then you're climbing up more stairs, and then climbing down more stairs. So, that might be inefficient too. So you might need to jump from the window. I'm not sure...

Yeah, I love that.


  1. I had a client once who was an undercover CIA agent that he said the US Government owes him $500,000 because he knows where Osama is and talks to him every night on the phone.

    Unfortunately, the next time I saw him, he was on his medication so it wasn't as much fun.

  2. I wish I had better experiences with mentally ill clients. My clients who aren’t druggies or alcoholics seem to be mentally ill. My mentally ill clients upset me more than my run-of-the-mill public defender clients. Usually, they just don’t know any better, or can’t help themselves. But the system isn’t set up to deal with them. It is very, very seldom that they are considered legally insane. Usually they are diagnosed with numerous problems or psychosis, but supposedly they know right from wrong. Often they are very low functioning, if not actually retarded. It just seems that these people should not be held up to the same standards as “normal” defendants. One of my current clients is a 28 year women with an IQ of around 71, along with other issues. She was found to be competent and sane. She is charged with having sex with a 13 year old boy, five years ago. Her excuse was that when he kissed her neck, he got her all hot and bothered, and she couldn’t help herself. The truth is, she is probably at the same functioning level as the boy. I just don’t believe she belongs in prison. The state is willing to recommend the minimum sentence of one year in prison. She won’t learn anything there; she will just become worse. There are no facilities for someone who is not considered criminally insane or incompetent, just prison. Sometimes, I get so frustrated. It makes me feel like a failure. Unfortunately, I have four or five mentally ill clients who are charged with serious felonies, who have been, or are about to be, found to be competent and legally sane. One with four counts of rape, two with improper sexual conduct with minors and one with second degree felony burglary. Only one has a really trialable (is that even a word?) case. The rest are really just sentencing issues. Oh! for a mental health court, or, even, facilities to house them away from real criminals.

  3. Insanity cases are definitely one of my favorite parts of crim law.

  4. Pretty funny. But sometimes I wonder, maybe the mentally ill are the only ones in our society who really know what's going on...

  5. I am an attorney who soley works with mentally disabled clients. I visit some in jail. It is especially depressing to see clients with developmental disabilities in there. But I also go to locked mental health facilities. And some people would rather be in jail than be in a MH facility. And I can totally respect that, based on all the abuses that happen in the MH facilities. The MH system has come a long way, but there are still so many problems. People who are LPS conserved might avoid jail or prison only to end up locked up for the rest of their lives in an IMD (Institute for Mental Disease, yes, we need to change the term). People are given psychiatric medications that have serious side effects (diabetes, tremors, death, etc).