Competent but crazy



Before I came to the bench, I spent time as the law member of the Dawson County Mental Health Board. Our job was to determine whether a person should be civilly committed because of a mental illness. See for example here or here.

The person had to be dangerous to himself or others as evidenced by a recent overt act. That’s where I first learned that if you saw a monster, smelled a monster or heard a monster and you took steps to distance yourself from the monster by climbing tall trees you were crazy enough to go to the nut house. If not, you were free to wander the streets and mumble all you want.

Later on, I developed a little speciality in dealing with mental health issues both in the criminal and civil context. I also represented clinical psychologists and had the opportunity to hire some of the best of these brilliant professionals. They taught me a lot.

I was reminded recently of something I learned long ago. You can be crazy as a loon, but competent to stand trial, or reject a plea deal that would get you some help. What does the justice system do with such people? Most of the time, very little. That strikes as both deeply sad and, dare I say, crazy.

I want to learn of the experiences of practitioners who have dealt with clients in this place of darkness and eternal suffering. That is, tell me please of your experiences in dealing with the crazy but competent.


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