Request for New Trial and Opportunity to Raise Insanity Defense Based on Newly Discovered Evidence of Dissociative Identity Disorder Refused

Orndorff v. Commonwealth, 613 S.E.2d 876 (Va. Ct. App. 2005)

The use of diagnoses of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) tends to be particularly controversial in the legal system.  Concerns have been raised about the validity of this diagnosis, its identification, its potential for manipulation, and its application in legal proceedings...

Found in DMHL Volume 25 Issue 1

Coverage Denied Under Homeowner's Insurance Policy Because Acts That Resulted from Mental Illness Considered "Intentional" Acts; Ruling Not Disturbed

Hastings Mut. Ins. Co. v. Rundell, No. 238549, 2003 WL 21508515 (Mich. Ct. App. July 1, 2003), cert. denied, 126 S. Ct. 372 (2005)

For no apparent reason, a married couple's son shot a woman outside a health care facility.  They and their son, who lived with them, were sued by the shooting victim.  They attempted to rely on their homeowners' insurance policy to cover damages that might be awarded to the shooting victim.  The insurance company responded that the policy did not apply because it specifically excluded intentional acts from coverage.  The family argued the policy did apply because their son suffered from schizophrenia at the time and their son's actions were not intentional...

Found in DMHL Volume 25 Issue 1

Ninth Circuit Sets Out Test for Determining When Mental Impairment Tolls Statute of Limitations for Filing Federal Habeas

Bills v. Clark, 628 F.3d 1092 (9th Cir. 2010)

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has established a 2-part test to determine when a prisoner’s mental impairment tolls the one-year statute of limitations for filing a federal habeas corpus petition under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. The United States Supreme Court had previously upheld Eleventh Circuit determinations finding that the one-year statute of limitations must be tolled if equitable circumstances exist beyond a prisoner’s control preventing him from filing on time. The prisoner must establish that 1) he has been pursuing his rights diligently, and 2) some extraordinary circumstance stood in his way. Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S. __, 130 S.Ct. 2549, 177 L.Ed.2d 130 (2010). In determining whether a mental disability constitutes such an extraordinary circumstance, a petitioner must show that the disability severely impaired his ability to meet the filing deadline despite diligent efforts to do so.

In this case, while serving a sentence for other charges, the prisoner was charged with possession of a sharp instrument by a state prisoner and was sentenced to 25 years to life. The prisoner appealed his conviction and after the time expired for a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, he pursued state habeas proceedings. Thereafter, he filed a late habeas petition in federal court alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. Noting the unusually long sentence, the court appointed counsel to represent him. Counsel argued that the petition should not be dismissed as untimely filed due to the prisoner’s inability to read and write, neurological deficits, borderline to mild mental retardation, concurrent psychosis and lack of assistance available to him. The prisoner’s expert psychologist testified that he had been diagnosed as bipolar with a variety of behavioral and cognitive disorders, and that he could not understand his legal rights sufficiently to make rational choices. The record reflected, however, that the prisoner had prepared a number of administrative and judicial filings, including a pro se habeas petition in 2000 and an administrative complaint regarding medical care in 2001. He had also represented himself pro se at his trial on this charge. The district court denied the late filing finding that his mental capacity was not sufficiently severe to impede his filing of a timely petition based on his second grade reading level and its finding that a jail house lawyer had been available to help with the filing of the petition.

In setting out the standard for review, the Ninth Circuit stated that there must be a causal connection between the petitioner’s mental disability and the ability to file the petition. The Court determined that the relevant question is whether the mental impairment caused the untimely filing and set out the following two-part test:

1. The petitioner must show that the mental impairment was an extraordinary circumstance beyond his control demonstrating an impairment so severe that either

a. The petitioner was unable to rationally or factually personally understand the need to timely file, or
b. The petitioner’s mental state rendered him unable to personally prepare a habeas petition and effectuate its filing.

2. The petitioner must show diligence in pursing claims to the extent he could understand them, but that the mental impairment made it impossible to meet the filing deadline under the totality of the circumstances, including whether there was reasonably available access to assistance.

The Court found that this standard “flows naturally” from the Supreme Court’s rulings concerning competency to stand trial in Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1969); competency to plead in Godinez v. Moran, 509 U.S. 389 (1993);and competency to represent oneself in Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164 (2008). In other words, the court must determine whether the petitioner is competent to do what the law requires. In examining the totality of the circumstances, the court:

1. must find that the petitioner has made a non-frivolous showing that he had a severe mental impairment during the filing period that would entitle him to an evidentiary hearing;
2. determine after considering the record whether the petitioner satisfied his burden that he was in fact mentally impaired;
3. determine whether the petitioner’s mental impairment made it impossible to timely file on his own; and
4. consider whether circumstances demonstrate the petitioner was otherwise diligent in attempting to comply with the filing requirements.

The Ninth Circuit remanded the case for the district court to apply the facts of the case to the standard articulated in its decision.

Found in DMHL Volume 30 Issue 5