It’s not surprising that mental health issues and substance abuse problems are major contributors to crime in California. What is surprising is how few attorneys seem to know how to have a meaningful discussion with their clients about these issues.
Some of my clients suffer from profound mental illness; they’re hard to talk to. If someone is too ill, it is impossible to communicate clearly and have them to aid in their own defense. In those instances, Penal Code 1367 allows the court to stop the case dead in its tracks and have the defendant seen by a doctor, evaluated, and treated. If it works, life in (and out) of court starts up all over again. If it doesn’t, the defendant either gets released after being locked up for the equivalent of a full sentence (in a misdemeanor) or sent to a state hospital for treatment (in a felony).
Many more of my clients have drug and alcohol problems. I’m not a doctor, a social worker, or a psychiatrist, so when I tell a client that they have a problem I am not making a medical diagnosis. I’m just a straight-talking lawyer, so my definition of ‘problem’ is a pragmatic one. If beers with the boys brought bruises and bail, there’s a problem. If your night started in cuff-links and ended in handcuffs, there’s a problem. And if anyone can honestly say that it’s a business doing pleasure with you, well, there’s probably a problem. In other words, if your lifestyle choices are leading to lawyering choices, you’re probably not doing it right.
F. Scott Fitzgerald gets misquoted a lot. What he actually wrote was “I once thought that there were no second acts in American lives, but there was certainly to be a second act to New York’s boom days.” Today, I had the pleasure of watching the start of a client’s second act – his acceptance into Drug Court. It wasn’t easy – the persecutors’ office objected ‘strenuously’ to his placement – but I worked hard for him. More importantly, he took the first step and decided that, medical opinions notwithstanding, he had what Lawyer Applegate considers a problem. He decided to come in from the cold. I think that’s wonderful, and I’m proud of him. There’s something, well, right about the criminal courts working to help someone realize that there’s hope.
There’s something right about my definition of a problem, too – as I define them, problems can be solved.
Got a problem? If I don’t have the solution, I bet I know who does – call me and we’ll talk.