Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (NGRI)

State v. Dalton, No. 336PA15, 2016 N.C. LEXIS 1121 (Dec. 21, 2016)

Supreme Court of North Carolina rules that a prosecutor's closing argument exaggerating the likelihood of defendant's release if found not guilty by reason of insanity constituted prejudicial error because the statements were not supported by the evidence.

Background: Melissa Amber Dalton had a history of substance abuse and mental illness. She received inpatient treatment in July 2009 and was diagnosed with cocaine dependence, cannabis abuse, substance abuse mood disorder, borderline personality disorder, and intrauterine pregnancy. Dalton’s treating physician prescribed Lexapro, an SSRI, but was unaware that Dalton had previously reacted negatively to a different SSRI. Dalton was released approximately three days later. About three weeks later, Dalton went to the apartment of two neighbors, claiming to have money she owed them. When the neighbors opened the door, Dalton stabbed both of them repeatedly, killing one and seriously wounding the other. Dalton was indicted for first-degree murder, first-degree burglary, and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury. Dalton pled not guilty by reason of insanity. During closing arguments, the prosecutor told the jury that if Dalton was found not guilty by reason of insanity that it was “very possible” she would be back home within 50 days. The jury found Dalton guilty on all counts. The court of appeals found prejudicial error in the prosecutor’s closing arguments and granted Dalton a new trial.

Holding: The Supreme Court of North Carolina ruled that statements in closing arguments about a defendant’s likelihood of release must be supported by evidence presented at trial. The court found no evidence to support the prosecutor’s statement that it was “very possible” Dalton would be released within 50 days. The court affirmed the opinion of the court of appeals.

Notable Point: Miranda Rights and Insanity Defense: On appeal the defendant also raised the issue of the prosecutor using evidence that she invoked her Miranda rights after arrest to prove she was sane. However, the court of appeals did not address this argument in reaching its decision and relied solely on the prosecutor’s statement in closing arguments about her possibility of release.

Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 4