"Too stubborn to ever be governed by enforced insanity": Some therapeutic jurisprudence dilemmas in the representation of criminal defendants in incompetency and insanity cases

Michael L Perlin
International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 2010, 33 (5-6): 475-81
Little attention has been paid to the importance of the relationship between therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) and the role of criminal defense lawyers in insanity and incompetency-to-stand-trial (IST) cases. That inattention is especially noteworthy in light of the dismal track record of counsel providing services to defendants who are part of this cohort of incompetency-status-raisers and insanity-defense-pleaders. On one hand, this lack of attention is a surprise as TJ scholars have, in recent years, turned their attention to virtually every other aspect of the legal system. On the other hand, it is not a surprise, given the omnipresence of sanism, an irrational prejudice of the same quality and character of other irrational prejudices that cause (and are reflected in) prevailing social attitudes of racism, sexism, homophobia, and ethnic bigotry, that infects both our jurisprudence and our lawyering practices. Sanism is largely invisible and largely socially acceptable, and is based predominantly upon stereotype, myth, superstition, and deindividualization. It is sustained and perpetuated by our use of alleged "ordinary common sense" (OCS) and heuristic reasoning in an unconscious response to events both in everyday life and in the legal process. This paper examines the literature that seeks to apply TJ principles to the criminal law process in general, drawing mostly on the work of Professor David Wexler. It considers why the lack of attention that I have referred to already is surprising (given TJ's mandate and the fact that many TJ issues are inevitably raised in any insanity or IST case). The paper then considers why this lack of attention is not surprising, given the omnipresence of sanism. It will consider some of the actual counseling issues that might arise in these contexts, and offer some suggestions to lawyers representing clients in cases in which mental status issues may be raised. The paper concludes that we must rigorously apply therapeutic jurisprudence principles to these issues, so as to strip away sanist behavior, pretextual reasoning and teleological decision making from the criminal competency and responsibility processes, so as to enable us to confront the pretextual use of social science data in an open and meaningful way. This gambit would also allow us to address-in a more successful way than has ever yet been done-the problems raised by the omnipresence of ineffective counsel in cases involving defendants with mental disabilities.

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