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'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


New York Law School


International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, Vol. 33, No. 4/5, 2010
NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09/10 #15

Abstract:     
Little attention has been paid to the importance 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, that is largely invisible and largely socially acceptable, that is based predominantly upon stereotype, myth, superstition, and deindividualization, and 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.

In Part I of this paper, I examine the literature that seeks to apply TJ principles to the criminal law process in general, drawing mostly on the work of Professor David Wexler. In Part II, I consider 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). In Part III, I then consider why this lack of attention is not surprising, given the omnipresence of sanism. In Part IV, I 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.

I conclude the paper by concluding that we must rigorously apply therapeutic jurisprudence principles to each aspect of the insanity defense, so as to strip away sanist behavior, pretextual reasoning and teleological decision making from the insanity defense process, 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.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 30

Keywords: Therapeutic jurisprudence, counsel, insanity, incompetency, criminal procedure, mental disability

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Date posted: December 18, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Perlin, Michael L., 'Too Stubborn to Ever be Governed by Enforced Insanity': Some Therapeutic Jurisprudence Dilemmas in the Representation of Criminal Defendants in Incompetency and Insanity Cases. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, Vol. 33, No. 4/5, 2010; NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09/10 #15. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1523944

Contact Information

Michael L. Perlin (Contact Author)
New York Law School ( email )
185 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013
United States
212-431-2183 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://www.nyls.edu/bios/perlin.html
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