When a Guilty Verdict is in the Accused’s Best Interests
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Lawyers’ ethical codes direct defence counsel to protect clients from criminal conviction. If acquittal isn’t possible, the minimal sentence should be secured. This paper argues that in specific case types neither an acquittal nor a minimal sentence is in the client’s best interests. The clients’ best interests must be understood in the context of their overall lives. Criminal behaviour is often more than single incidents of offending isolated in time and place. An analysis of case examples shows that focusing on acquittal and minimal sentencing may leave clients in continuing conflict with the law; facing increased long term punishment; and failing to proactively address underlying mental health concerns. In cases where the offending is directly connected to compulsive or repetitive behaviours that are grounded in mental health concerns, mental health professionals should be consulted early in the legal process. They may help determine whether the clients’ best interests are better served by acceptance of criminal responsibility and sentencing that ensures proper mental health intervention. Breaking the offence cycle through treatment and promoting a healthier crime-free lifestyle may meet the clients’ best interests better than protection from criminal conviction.