Mental Health Experts, Jury Instructions, Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity

Commonwealth v. Piantedosi, 87 N.E.3d 549 (Mass. 2017)

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld a conviction of first-degree murder because the judge correctly excluded expert testimony about a hearsay conversation not admitted into evidence, the Commonwealth’s expert witness testimony was proper, and the judge accurately instructed the jury with the appropriate model instructions at the time of the trial.

Found in DMHL Volume 37, Issue 1

Sexual Assault Conviction Reversed Because Prosecutor Told Jury that Commonly Known Children Don't Report Sexual Assaults Right Away

Smith v. Commonwealth, 580 S.E.2d 481 (Va. Ct. App. 2003); 17(51) Virginia Lawyers Weekly 1291 (May 26, 2003)

The Virginia Court of Appeals overturned a sexual assault conviction because the trial court failed to specifically direct the jury to disregard a statement made by the prosecutor during jury selection that "it's commonly known that children don't report sexual assaults right away, if at all."  The court noted in this case the credibility of the victims was vital to the Commonwealth's case because only the victims' testimony proved defendant was the perpetrator of these assaults.
Furthermore, a major factor affecting their credibility was their delay in reporting the assaults to an adult...

Found in DMHL Volume 23 Issue 1

Ruling that Alcoholism and Intoxication Do Not Require Special Capital Sentencing Jury Instruction Identifying Them as Mitigating Factors Not Disturbed

Harris v. Cockrell, 313 F.3d 238 (5th Cir. 2002), cert. denied, 123 S. Ct. 1576 (2003)

The Supreme Court declined to review a Fifth Circuit ruling that upheld the capital sentence of a Texas man.  The defendant argued in part that the trial court was required to identify alcoholism or evidence of intoxication at the time of the offense as mitigating factors during the sentencing hearing. The Fifth Circuit concluded that neither constituted a "uniquely severe permanent handicap[ ] with which the defendant was burdened through no fault of his own," which would have required a special jury instruction under the Supreme Court's opinion in Penry v. Lynaugh (1989). The Fifth Circuit also determined the jury was able to give mitigating effect to evidence of the defendant's alcoholism under jury instructions pertaining to deliberateness and future dangerousness and to evidence of the defendant's intoxication through the instruction on deliberateness...

Found in DMHL Volume 23 Issue 1

Reversal of Capital Conviction Because Counsel Failed to Request Diminished Capacity Jury Instruction to Reflect Defendant's "Explosive Dyscontrol" from Chronic Drug Use Not Disturbed

Pirtle v. Morgan, 313 F.3d 1160 (9th Cir. 2002), cert. denied, Morgan v. Pirtle, 123 S. Ct. 2286 (2003); 71(47) U.S. Law Week 3756 (June 10, 2003)

Perhaps presaging its decision in Wiggins (described above), the Supreme Court declined to review a ruling of the Ninth Circuit that overturned a first-degree murder convic­tion for ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment because defendant's attorney failed to request a dimin­ished capacity jury instruction. At trial, the defendant testified he ingested methamphet­amines, cocaine, and marijuana the night before the murder but was "coming down" three hours before the murder. Despite this evidence the drugs he used were wearing off three hours before the murder, defense counsel requested an intoxication instruction...

Found in DMHL Volume 23 Issue 1

Ruling that Enhanced Sentence of Psychiatrist and Office Manager for Testifying Falsely at Fraud Trial, Without Jury Having Made This Factual Finding, Reversed, Remanded for Further Consideration

United States v. Mitrione, 357 F.3d 712 (7th Cir. 2004), vacated & remanded for further consideration in light of United States v. Booker (2005).  United States v. Booker, 125 S. Ct. 738 (2005)

Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the sentence authorized by a jury verdict could be enhanced by.the presiding judge at the sentencing hearing if the judge found that additional facts delineated by the guidelines existed. In United States v. Booker (2005), the Supreme Court struck down these guidelines to the extent that they imposed binding requirements on sentencing judges but were based on facts that had not been determined by a jury...

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 2

Connecticut Supreme Court Mandates That Juries Generally Be Informed of Risks Inherent in Eyewitness Identification Procedures When Eyewitness Has Not Been Warned That Perpetrator May Not Be Present

State v. Ledbetter, 881 A.2d 290 (Conn. 2005)

A unanimous Connecticut Supreme Court has crafted a jury instruction that generally must be given in trials when an eyewitness identification is entered into evidence.  The court noted that psychological studies document that a witness is more likely to misidentify an innocent individual as the perpetrator of a crime during an identification procedure (e.g., during a photo array or lineup) where the witness is not warned that the perpetrator might not be present.  The court added the research also shows that warning the witness that the perpetrator might not be present does not significantly decrease the percentage of correct identifications...

Found in DMHL Volume 25 Issue 1

Iowa Supreme Court Finds Due Process Does Not Require Jury Instruction on Consequences of Insanity Verdict

Iowa v. Becker, 818 N.W.2d 135 (Iowa 2012)

The Iowa Supreme Court has held that the jury instructions given by the trial court in this case, when read as a whole, fairly and accurately described the insanity defense under Iowa law. Due process did not require the court to instruct the jury on the consequences of an insanity verdict even when the jury requested such information.

The defendant Mark Becker shot and killed his former football coach in a high school weight room on June 24, 2009 in front of numerous high school students and was charged with first degree murder. His mother testified that he was an active and friendly child until the end of his freshman year in high school when he started to withdraw a little. After attending one semester of college, Becker dropped out and became more inward, depressed and very uncommunicative. In September 2008, he began a series of escalating violent episodes, including assaulting his mother. These episodes resulted in several week-long psychiatric commitments and the prescription of medication that he would take sporadically.

Four days before the shooting, Becker knocked on the door of a residence, and when he was not admitted, he smashed the storm door, a picture window and a garage window with a baseball bat, and tried to drive his car through the garage door. Becker was arrested, booked and then sent to a psychiatric unit for evaluation. The following day he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and given medications. Two days later he requested release, and appearing to the psychiatric unit to be better, it released him without notifying the sheriff. The local mental health services coordinator assisted him in opening his apartment because the police still had his keys and made plans to fill his prescriptions the next day. However, Becker called his parents and spent the night at their home.

Becker arose at 4:30 a.m., and had coffee with his parents later that morning before they left for work. He then pried open the gun cabinet in his parents’ basement, removed a .22 caliber revolver and practiced shooting at a birdhouse in the yard. Becker then drove to a house in a neighboring town looking for his former coach. When told the coach did not live there, he returned to his town, asking people where he could find the coach, and saying he was working with the coach on a tornado relief project. He was told the coach might be teaching driver education at the local elementary school. Becker then drove to the elementary school and upon arrival asked the custodian where he might find the coach. Since the high school had been damaged by a tornado, a temporary weight room had been set up in the nearby elementary school. When told that was where he might find the coach, he drove around to the weight room, but left the gun in the car. Upon determining that the coach was there, he returned to the car, put the gun in his coveralls, later explaining the coveralls would hide the gun, and reentered the weight room. He then shot the coach six times in the head, chest and leg, and proceeded to kick and stomp him. He then left the weight room screaming that he had killed Satan. Becker then drove to his parents’ home where he was arrested and charged with first degree murder.

At trial, Becker raised the insanity defense. Two psychiatrists testified that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and, as a result, was unable to understand the nature or consequences of his actions and was incapable of distinguishing right from wrong. The prosecution called two psychiatrists in rebuttal who agreed he was paranoid schizophrenic but that he understood the nature and consequences of his action and knew right from wrong. The jury deliberated for several days and sent several questions to the court including what would happen if Becker were found not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity. The court referred the jury to Instruction 10 that informed them that in the case of a guilty verdict, they would have nothing to do with punishment. In response to the question, the court also informed the jury that in the event of either a guilty verdict or a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity verdict, they would have nothing to do with the consequences and these were issues for the court, not the jury. The jury then returned a verdict of guilty and the court sentenced Becker to life in prison without parole.

Becker appealed his conviction on the grounds that the jury instructions did not accurately define the elements of the insanity defense and that the court violated his due process rights under the Iowa constitution when it refused to instruct the jury on the consequences of a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity-verdict.

Under Iowa law, a defendant may be found not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity if he shows that a diseased or deranged condition of the mind rendered him incapable of knowing the nature and quality of the act he is committing or incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong in relation to that act. It has no irresistible impulse prong. The Iowa Supreme Court found that although a defendant is ordinarily entitled to have his instructions presented to the jury and his instruction in the case stated the law more coherently and concisely, courts’ instructions are not required to contain the precise language of the applicable statute. The trial court’s instructions to the jury substantially mirrored the Iowa State Bar’s uniform jury instructions. When read with the other instructions given, the court’s instruction accurately and completely stated the applicable law. The Supreme Court held that the defendant was therefore not entitled to have his instruction submitted to the jury.

After reviewing its extensive precedent, the Iowa Supreme Court also found that the trial court did not violate the defendant’s due process rights under the Iowa Constitution for refusing to instruct the jury regarding the consequences of a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity verdict. It wrote that the United States Supreme Court has held that federal courts are not required to give an instruction explaining the consequences of a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity verdict under the Insanity Defense Reform Act, Shannon v. United States, 512 U.S. 573 (1994), but the Supreme Court has not decided the issue on constitutional grounds. The Iowa Court noted that a majority of states refuse to require the instruction, but there is a split of authority on the issue. A number of states have adopted the Lyles Rule that originates from Lyles v. United States, 254 F.2d 725 (D.C. Cir. 1957), an early case requiring the instruction in the District of Columbia. The rationale for the Lyles Rule recognizes that jurors are aware of the results of guilty and not guilty verdicts, but a verdict of insanity does not have a commonly understood meaning. Arguments against the Lyles Rule include, first that such information is irrelevant to the jury’s proper function, which is the determination of the sanity issue, and second, that the information would invite a compromise verdict.

The Iowa Supreme Court also noted that 24 states require a consequence instruction even though the due process clause is not used to justify the requirement. About one-third of these states have specific statutes requiring the instruction. A slight majority of the states, such as Virginia, do not require a consequence instruction, or allow the instruction only when the consequences of a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity verdict are inaccurately portrayed to the jury by a prosecutor or defense counsel. See Kitze v. Commonwealth, 435 S.E.2d 583, 586 (Va. 1993); Spruill v. Commonwealth, 271 S.E.2d 419, 426 (Va. 1993).

The Iowa Supreme Court also recognized that many commentators, researchers, academics and law students believe that the best practice is to give the instruction whenever requested by the defendant. One commentator in particular wrote that “the public overestimates the extent to which insanity acquittees are released upon acquittal and underestimates the extent to which they are hospitalized as well as the length of confinement of insanity acquittees who are sent to mental hospitals.” Eric Silver et al., Demythologizing Inaccurate Perceptions of the Insanity Defense, 18 Law & Hum. Behav. 63, 68 (Feb. 1994). The Court found that while there may be policy reasons supporting a consequence instruction, the law and the Iowa Constitution does not require it, and policy decisions are best left to the legislature and not the courts.

The Iowa Supreme Court therefore found that fundamental fairness does not require a trial court to instruct the jury that if it finds the defendant to be not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity, he would be committed to a mental health facility for evaluation. The Court went on to state, however, that this decision should not be read as an absolute prohibition on giving a consequences instruction.

Found in DMHL Volume 32 Issue 1

Mental Condition as Mitigating Evidence in Criminal Sentencing

Voluntary intoxication instruction upheld

Sprouse v. Stephens, 748 F.3d 609 (5th Cir.) cert. denied, 135 S. Ct. 477, 190 L. Ed. 2d 362 (2014)

After being convicted of capital murder of a police officer, petitioner Sprouse was sentenced to death. On state habeas review, Sprouse challenged jury instructions that “effectively precluded the jury from considering voluntary intoxication as mitigating evidence.” Raising the issue again on federal habeas review, Sprouse contended that the state court “unreasonably applied” Penry v. Lynaugh (“Penry I ”), 492 U.S. 302, 109 S.Ct. 2934, 106 L.Ed.2d 256 (1989), Boyde v. California, 494 U.S. 370, 110 S.Ct. 1190, 108 L.Ed.2d 316 (1990), and Penry v. Johnson (“Penry II ”), 532 U.S. 782, 121 S.Ct. 1910, 150 L.Ed.2d 9 (2001). The Fifth Circuit affirmed the federal district court’s denial of Sprouse’s habeas petition.

At the close of the punishment phase of the trial, the jury received three general instructions regarding the proper treatment of mitigating evidence. First, what constituted mitigating evidence, second that “neither intoxication nor temporary insanity of mind caused by intoxication constitute [sic ] a defense to the commission of a crime,” and a final instruction on temporary insanity. On appeal to the Fifth Circuit, Sprouse argued that the voluntary-intoxication instruction (instruction two) “unconstitutionally limited the jury's ability to consider mitigating evidence.” The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Sprouse’s federal habeas petition, holding that neither the state court nor the federal district court were unreasonable in their application of Supreme Court precedent. Further, the Fifth Circuit stated that “the fact that Sprouse perceives a negative inference in one sentence of his jury charge does not demonstrate that his jury was confused about, and precluded from following, the comprehensive and catch-all affirmative command to the jury to consider mitigation circumstances.”

In November 2014, the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari.

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 1

Jury instructions

People v. James, 238 Cal. App. 4th 794, 189 Cal. Rptr. 3d 635 (2015), as modified on denial of reh’g (Aug. 12, 2015), review filed (Aug. 24, 2015)

Where a defendant has provided evidence of involuntary intoxication and unconsciousness, he is entitled, upon request, to a jury instruction on the defense of unconsciousness; refusal to provide the requested instruction constitutes prejudicial error

Background: James was charged with aggravated mayhem and assault producing great bodily injury and pled not guilty by reason of insanity. The court-appointed clinical psychologist’s report stated that James had been shot in the head in 1998 and, as a result, had a seizure disorder. Another head trauma occurred in 2011. James had been diagnosed with Mood Disorder, PTSD, and Polysubstance Dependence. In addition, James regularly used cocaine and marijuana, and occasionally used ecstasy, methamphetamine, acid, and mushrooms. The court-appointed psychologist opined that during the offense, James suffered a Psychotic Disorder [not otherwise specified], with psychosis present, and that James “was not capable of knowing or understanding the nature and quality of his act and of distinguishing right from wrong.” Another psychologist’s report chronicled the same history, but concluded that his behavior was more likely the result of drug-induced psychosis or delirium, and that James was not legally insane. In a bifurcated trial, a jury found James guilty, but then found him not guilty by reason of insanity.

Holdings: Finding substantial evidence that James was unconscious within the legal meaning of the defense of unconsciousness when he committed the offenses, the court of appeal reversed, holding that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on that defense.

Notable Points:

It was error to refuse appellant's request to give a jury instruction on the defense of unconsciousness, and appellant was prejudiced: The Court began by stating that evidence raising a reasonable doubt as to whether the defendant was conscious at the time of acting is a complete defense to a criminal charge, and that where a defendant provides evidence of involuntary unconsciousness, “the refusal of a requested instruction on the subject, and its effect as a complete defense if found to have existed, is prejudicial error.” Drawing a link between the voluntary intoxication doctrine and the insanity defense accepted by the jury, the Court stated: “if the jury had concluded that appellant's mental state at the time of the February 19 event was the product of his own voluntary intoxication, it necessarily was required to reject his defense of not guilty by reason of insanity; its contrary finding clearly implies that the jury was not so convinced.”

Unconsciousness caused by voluntary intoxication is not a defense to a general intent crime, and may be raised in any potential retrial: The Court emphasized that unconsciousness is not always a complete defense, and that voluntary intoxication could not be a defense to a general intent crime. It made clear that “the issue of voluntary intoxication may also be raised as an exception to [the unconsciousness] defense, and both may be presented to the jury to decide.”

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 3