Monday, July 4, 2011

Big Mistakes to Avoid

Ace of Spades links to this excellent Guardian piece about a guy in a mental institution who is thought to be a psychopath, and the difficulty he has in convincing them that he's not.

While it makes a very good point about the shades of grey in what constitutes psychopathy, I thought the most telling point was actually at the start:

"I'd committed GBH [Grievous Bodily Harm]," he said. "After they arrested me, I sat in my cell and I thought, 'I'm looking at five to seven years.' So I asked the other prisoners what to do. They said, 'Easy! Tell them you're mad! They'll put you in a county hospital. You'll have Sky TV and a PlayStation. Nurses will bring you pizzas.'"

"How long ago was this?" I asked.

"Twelve years ago," Tony said.
This is old, old news to lawyers, but for some reason always comes as a surprise to the average person - unless you're facing the death penalty and are very clearly guilty, it's probably not a good idea to plead insanity.

Because even if you win, you lose.

The biggest problem is that you can easily be held in the loony bin for substantially longer than your original prison sentence would have been. Not only that, but they're not under any obligation to let you out, ever. You have to convince various psychiatrists and tribunals. And guess what? It's going to be their ass on the line if you go out and murder someone after being certified as sane. So whaddaya know, they tend to be somewhat conservative in recommending release!

It also shows a real failure of imagination. Because what's your plan once you get into the mental institution? "Easy. I'll just tell them that I faked my mental illness to escape prison, they'll realise what a miscarriage of justice it is to keep a lying violent perjurer in an institution for a second longer, and I'll walk free."

Yeah, not so much.

"Okay, fine, I won't tell them I was faking it, I'll just fake a recovery from whatever disease they think I have, even though I won't know exactly what they're looking for as signs of improvement, other than just acting nice and sane."

Are you starting to see why good lawyers don't often recommend that you plead insanity if you're not, in fact, insane?

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