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The Unusually Sensible Lindsay Lohan Judge

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LINDSAY LOHAN
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The rumor about Lindsay Lohan drinking was true.

The rumor about Lindsay Lohan violating the conditions of her probation was not.

Judge Stephanie Sautner ruled last Thursday that the prior judge on the case, Elden Fox, only required testing from January 3 to February 25, 2011. After that point, Lohan was free to drink so long as she didn't drive.

This ruling makes both legal and therapy sense. And it is rare.

First, therapy sense. The ruling mandate therapeutically in this area is the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual, referred to as DSM-IV. DSM-IV defines substance abuse and dependence strictly in terms of problems the drinker or user experiences. The same is true for remission (popularly called "recovery"). Nowhere is abstinence required for remission.

Although this differs from Alcoholics Anonymous' approach, it is nonetheless as it should be. No clinical data support abstinence as the sole route to recovery. And those for whom controlled drinking doesn't work -- well, they'll have additional drinking problems, and won't be coded as remitted.

I know about this issue in re DSM-IV because this was a primary concern of mine as an adviser to the substance use disorders section of the volume. I personally wanted the absence of the abstinence requirement made more explicit since it is so widely misinterpreted. (Even though DSM-IV was published in 1994, this "requirement" is often mistakenly imagined to be present.) But I was overruled.

Why this ruling makes legal sense is that consuming alcohol is a legal activity. When you come under the jurisdiction of the court system for breaking the law, obviously, you sacrifice some freedoms ordinary citizens enjoy. And the court can certainly demand that you follow the law, and rescind your freedom while on probation if you do not (typically referred to as "being violated").

Obviously, so long as marijuana and other drug use remain illegal, smoking pot is out.

But it is less clear what lawful freedoms that ordinary citizens enjoy should be withdrawn from those on probation. And one of these questionable areas is drinking -- what if you believe (correctly) that having a glass of wine with dinner is good for your health? Can the court order you to stop on threat of imprisoning you? Shouldn't the court be focused on things that actually matter?

In fact, Lohan's attorney Shawn Chapman Holley's statement at a press conference preceding the hearing is exactly correct: "She's done nothing wrong, she has done everything right. I think we need to give her some credit for that. She wasn't supposed to be tested at all after February 25th. Alcohol is a legal substance."

Of course, some of Lindsay's legal problems have been associated with drinking, so this is an area that bears watching -- which is why the court correctly focused on her not driving while drinking. It would be hard to object to this restriction, since this law is one everybody is required to observe.

But continuing testing -- and the abstinence requirement -- are typically imposed throughout the probation period. That this is not the case for Lohan is actually a sensible departure from standard court practices.

Other conditions of Lohan's probation continue -- although her house arrest expires this week. Her new freedom will be a test of whether Lohan is really in control of herself, since she will be the only guarantor (along with any fail-safe mechanisms she has installed in her life) of her following her probation rules.

But that too makes sense -- if Lohan and the court are planning on Lohan's taking her place as a law-abiding, productive citizen.

Which is what probation is about.