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Mental Health Issues in DUI and Criminal Defense

I have often said that the majority of my cases involve substance abuse, financial pressures or relationship troubles. Many involve more than one of these issues. More and more lately, my clientele seem to be effected by significant mental health issues. I’m not a doctor but sometimes it can be easy to tell when a client has a problem and it is often very hard to deal with it. Sometimes however, it’s not so easy to tell.

I was referred a client recently from a local judge. The client is facing a second DUI with a high blood alcohol and multiple traffic collisions. At the time of the incident the client was on probation from his prior DUI. Further investigation into the case revealed the likelihood of a prior DUI accident on the same day as the arrest for which the client was not arrested.

The client didn’t remember most of the incident where he was arrested and vehemently denied being involved in an earlier accident that day. As we talked more about the case, the client continued to repeat himself over and over again. After we would talk he would often call back later in the day and repeat the same questions we discussed earlier that same day. The client would call me on weekends, holidays and sometimes would call 5 or 6 times on the same day. After hiring me and meeting with me a second time in person, one day he told me he had consulted with seven other lawyers while waiting for a return call from me.

At first I thought he was just being annoying and then I got a call from another lawyer to discuss this very client. The client had consulted this other lawyer, presumably number 8 since hiring me, and told the new lawyer his current lawyer was not communicating with him. I discussed the situation with the lawyer assured him that the case was not only under control, but we had a fantastic offer for settlement which I had discussed with my client already, twice.

Just for good measure, I called my client on my way home yesterday. He told me that I was fired. I asked if he had hired a new lawyer and he told me he had not. After I got home I got an email from the lawyer I had spoken to earlier in the day. He told me he got another call from the client who proceeded to have the same discussion with him that he had the day before. The client then became irate, causing the lawyer to terminate the phone conversation. The client called the lawyer back later in the day and began the exact same conversation, with seemingly no recognition of the earlier conversation.

Only then did it dawn on me that my client is likely suffering from a serious mental health condition. Again, I’m not a doctor, but when a client asks me the same questions and tells me the same story for the sixth time, I should start to suspect something is wrong. Now the problem is that I can’t even help my client. Had I known about a serious cognitive problem earlier, I might have been able to utilize this information to effectuate an even better settlement. Most judges don’t want to put mentally ill people in jail. Judges and even prosecutors want to get people the help they need in the best way possible in order to protect society. When I meet with clients, I always ask if they have any history of mental illness. This information can often be helpful in the successful resolution of criminal and DUI cases. For example, I recently resolved a case for a homeless man who was charged with making criminal threats. My client was very honest with me and told me about his mental health conditions and his prior treatment. I was able to work out a settlement which required my client to continue treatment with his normal psychiatrist, take his prescribed medication and no other punishment.

Regrettably, the clients are not always honest with me or with themselves. This client denied and mental health problems. Maybe in this case I should have been more attuned to the possibility of a mental health problem based upon my client’s actions. Maybe I could have dealt with my former client more effectively if I knew this information two or three months ago.

If you or someone close to you has been arrested or charged with a crime or DUI, or if you want a second opinion from a veteran defense attorney,

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The day after I wrote this blog, the client called my office again. He told my assistant he thought he was having a stroke and was being driven to the hospital for an examination.

I called him the following day on my way into my office to inquire about his health. My phone call found him to be at home. He told me he was diagnosed as having had an anxiety attack. He was given medication and sent home with instructions to follow up with his personal physician. He asked me to continue representing him and I told him that I would. The call lasted eleven minutes. By the time I made it to my office there was already a new phone message from my client. Again, I’m no doctor but I think his problems are a bit more serious than anxiety.