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The Paxil Defense: Antidepressant Made Man Rob a Bank of America

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By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on February 08, 2012 5:05 AM

Criminal defense lawyers know that the right strategy can make or break your client's case. Enter the "Paxil defense." Georgia attorney Peter Johnson is likely hoping this argument will help his client, Feliz Vega Jr.

Vega is accused of robbing a Bank of America branch in 2010. He donned a mask during the crime. He even threatened a teller with a paintball gun. Vega took off with $12,000 before he was tracked down by the police.

Now Johnson is arguing that his client couldn't have formed the requisite mental intent to commit the crime because of his anti-depressant medication, Paxil.

Of course, this isn't exactly a novel argument. Many defendants are legitimately compromised when they are on medication. Prescription drugs can interfere with their ability to form the requisite mental state mandated by the statute.

This is likely exactly what Johnson will argue in court. The attorney says he will even call expert witnesses to testify and bolster his argument.

But not everybody is pleased with Johnson's strategy. Assistant District Attorney Hank Syms in particular doesn't sound relatively happy.

"What we have with this charade about 'Paxil made him do it' is the opposite of taking responsibility," he said to The Augusta Chronicle.

He further explained that about a third of clients that plead guilty claim their actions are influenced by medication. Syms also said most attorneys are savvy enough to not employ the "medication" defense.

Though just because some prosecutors may be annoyed with your strategy doesn't mean you shouldn't use it. Especially if it is perfectly legitimate, based in evidence, and is a vital part of your legal defense. Will the "Paxil defense" hold up in court? That's up to a jury to decide. Vega's case is slated to start in February, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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