Insanity Defense and Double Jeopardy

Otis v. State, No. S15A1717, 2016 WL 462657 (Ga. Feb. 8, 2016)

A criminal defendant can present an insanity defense without providing prior notice to the prosecution if the defense calls no medical experts, and the decision of the trial court to declare a mistrial, over defendant’s objection, when defendant reveals at trial that an insanity defense will be pursued, must result in dismissal of the charge against the defendant, as a re-trial would subject defendant to double jeopardy.

Background: Geary Otis was charged with malice murder and other offenses arising out of the assault of one victim and the death of another. After a jury was impaneled and the State presented opening statements, the defense revealed, at the end of its opening statement, its intent to pursue an insanity defense. The defense had not given prior notice to the State, and the State objected—out of the presence of the jury—to the raising of the insanity defense on the basis of this lack of prior notice. At a hearing on the following day, the trial court declared a mistrial (over Otis’s objection) and rescheduled the case for trial in two weeks. Otis then filed a plea in bar on the grounds of double jeopardy, and the trial court denied the plea in bar. Otis appealed, asserting that the trial court had erred both in declaring a mistrial and in denying his plea in bar.

Holdings: The Supreme Court of Georgia agreed with Otis and reversed the circuit court’s denial of his plea in bar. The Court further held that the circumstances of the case did not demand entry of a mistrial order, and that the trial court had erred in entering that order over the defendant’s objection. Because the mistrial was improperly declared, double jeopardy prevented Otis from being tried again.

Prior notice of intent to pursue an insanity defense is required only when the defendant intends to rely on expert testimony: In Abernathy v. State, 462 S.E.2d 615 (Ga. 1995), the Georgia Supreme Court stated that the purpose of notice of an insanity defense was to “give the State an opportunity to obtain an independent expert mental health evaluation” and that a defendant “need not provide notice pretrial if he intends to present evidence of mental illness solely through lay witnesses.” This decision was made in the context of interim review of a death penalty case, but the Georgia Supreme Court clarified that the holding and reasoning were not limited to that context, and applied in all cases in which a defendant intends to assert an insanity defense.

Found in Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 1