My Lawyer Look at Britney Spears: How Do You Know When Someone is Legally Crazy?

There was talk in August that Britney Spears' friends thought she was suffering from post-partum depression. This week, US Magazine has a cover story that Britney Spears' friends are thinking maybe it's Adult-onset ADD or maybe it's depression. Earlier, US Magazine had a couple of doctors (who had not treated Britney) suggesting that she might be bipolar or she might be addicted to drugs and alcohol. There are even those that claim her erratic behavior is caused by her bad diet, which is filled with sugar, fat, and caffeine.

Here's My Lawyer Look:

Stupid's Not Crazy

Okay, we can all agree that her behavior is bizarre and illogical and self-destructive, I think. But one of the great things about America is we have the right to be ... well, different. Stupid's not crazy.

However, her behavior is being monitored by a court right now. A judge is reviewing her actions with her children via reports from an appointed professional, and he is requiring Britney to take drug tests. He's already issued a court order acknowledging frequent use of drugs and alcohol.

Professional eyes are watching what Britney does -- and if she is seriously ill, then the court will investigate further. What would happen?

Legally Incompetent versus Mentally Ill

For those working with the mentally ill, it's common to see them try and self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Those diagnosed with bipolar disease as well as depression both commonly self-medicate in this way.

It's not that easy in this country to have your rights curtailed on the basis of mental illness. The law is strict in its protection of an individual's freedom as well as their privacy. Legal incompetence and mental illness are not the same.

If Britney should act in a way that was considered an imminent danger to herself or others, for example should she threaten suicide, then she could be placed into a mental health facility against her will. However, her case would have to be reviewed by a judge within a matter of hours and the law would be in favor of her freedom -- there would have to be serious evidence of her being a continued threat to herself, or she could leave.

If Britney becomes unable to function -- she can't make simple business decisions, she can't take care of her personal hygiene -- then someone could move a court (perhaps the family law court, perhaps a new one) for a third party to be placed in a position to make decisions about her property and/or her person for her. She would be declared legally incompetent. The guardian would have the power to make basic decisions for her -- until she could do so for herself, again.

There are millions of folk out there who are mentally ill. There's a whole field of study about this -- epidemiology is the study of disease patterns in a population, and one epidemiological study estimates that 20% of the US population is not mentally healthy. (Think about that when you're driving home today....)

Britney may be mentally ill but not to the level of legal incompetency. As long as this is true, as sad and tragic as it may be, Britney can continue to spin out of control because she has the freedom to make very bad choices.

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