Craig Michael Wood’s conduct likely precludes insanity defense

February 23, 2014

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Good morning:

Actions speak louder than words.

Despite his claim of having suffered 40 to 50 blackouts, Craig Michael Wood probably cannot successfully claim insanity.

Insanity is a legal definition, not a medical or psychological definition. You won’t find it in the DSM.

The insanity defense focuses on a defendant’s mental state and requires him to admit committing the acts he is accused of committing.

Section 552.030 (1) of the Missouri Revised Statutes states:

A person is not responsible for criminal conduct if, at the time of such conduct, as a result of mental disease or defect such person was incapable of knowing and appreciating the nature, quality, or wrongfulness of such person’s conduct.

Contrary to the fearful, delusional and fact-free claims of the right-wing-hate-machine, the defense is rarely successful because even so-called crazy and delusional people usually attempt to conceal the crime they committed and/or deny that they committed it.

Their actions speak louder than their words because their behavior demonstrates that they knew they were doing something wrong even if, for example, they thought God commanded them to do it.

Wood’s behavior would not likely satisfy the insanity defense because the circumstantial evidence of his premeditated intent and knowledge that he was committing crimes is so overwhelming as to leave no doubt in a reasonable mind that he was in full command of his faculties, if not his urge to rape and kill a child.

Even though Mr. Wood is unlikely to prevail on a claim of insanity, a claim of impaired mental functioning might still be available to use in mitigation.

One of the first tasks for defense counsel will be to put together a mitigation team with a lawyer and mitigation investigator knowledgeable about mental disorders and the best forensic experts available to test Mr. Wood’s brain functioning and diagnose his condition.

They will be looking for what death-penalty lawyers refer to as “a hole in the brain,” meaning an organic brain disorder or injury (as opposed to a personality disorder) that inhibits his ability to function normally and causes him to act out in a violent, unpredictable and uncontrollable manner.

It’s difficult for a juror to sentence a defendant to death for behavior he cannot control, even if he knows that his behavior is wrong and violates the law.

The problem for Mr. Wood and his defense team is that the Hailey Owens kidnapping and murder shows someone who appears to have planned what he did knowing that it was wrong and illegal. He carried out his plan during a period of approximately 3.5 hours, including an attempt to eliminate evidence and evade capture by executing his victim, cleaning up the crime scene and disposing of her body before the police arrived.

And then there is the child pornography and God only knows what may be recorded on his videos and dvds.

Difficult to imagine that he did not intend to do everything he did to Hailey Owens before he saw her walking home and kidnapped her.

I do not see any evidence of involuntary or unconscious behavior, such as one might expect to see if he has a hole in the brain.

Finally, when confronted by police when he arrived home, he tossed the roll of duct tape that he was carrying into the bed of his pickup truck.

That act suggests that he knew why they were there and he did not want them to notice or question him about the duct tape and what he intended to do with it.

Unfortunately for Mr. Wood and his defense team, his conduct and state of mind do not appear to mitigate what he did. Instead, they appear to aggravate it.

We will have to wait and see how this case works out.


Loughner: Defense and Prosecution Benefit from Guilty Plea in Exchange for No Death Penalty

August 6, 2012

According to recent news reports, Jared Laughner is now competent and will plead guilty in federal court tomorrow (Tuesday) in exchange for the prosecution’s agreement not to seek the death penalty. No additional details were reported. I have written the following article based on the assumption that these reports are true.

I believe both sides and the public benefit from this agreement for the following reasons.

The defense benefits because there is a significant probability that it would fail to convince the jury that Mr. Loughner was insane when he shot all of the victims. As I have explained in previous articles, the legal test for insanity requires proof that a defendant was suffering from a mental disease or defect when he committed the crime, such that he was unable to distinguish between right and wrong and conform his conduct to the requirements of law.

Most mentally ill defendants, including those who were psychotic and delusional when they committed the crime, cannot satisfy this test because they knew they did something wrong and would get in trouble with the law, if they were caught. That is, the defense will likely fail if there is any evidence that the defendant knew he was committing a crime or if he attempted to conceal evidence of the crime and his participation in it. In addition, a defendant does not go free, if he is found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The prosecution benefits from the agreement because it achieves the most probable outcome of a trial without having to expend all of the effort, time and money necessary to try the case. A guilty plea also avoids a lengthy appeal process and establishes a finality to the legal process. That in turn creates an important opportunity for victims and their families to begin the process of healing themselves and moving on with their lives.

There is no doubt that Mr. Loughner was psychotic and delusional when he committed the crimes and, even if the jury rejected the insanity defense and found him guilty, there is a significant probability that the jury would conclude that his impaired mental condition when he committed the crimes was a sufficient mitigating circumstance to justify sentencing him to life in prison instead of sentencing him to death.

The public benefits from the agreement because it produces a fair and equitable result, given Mr. Loughner’s serious mental illness and disabilities. Schizophrenia is a horrific disease that destroys lives by causing delusions that the person cannot distinguish from reality. Even though medication can reduce and often prevent delusions, it has unpleasant zombie-like side effects that eliminate joy and excitement. Since schizophrenia is a debilitating disease that no one would voluntarily choose, basic human decency, empathy and mercy call for a life sentence, rather than the death penalty.

Before the Court can accept a guilty plea, it must determine whether Mr. Loughner is competent. Mr. Loughner had refused to take anti-psychotic medication until the Ninth Circuit recently affirmed the trial court’s order to medicate him forcibly, if necessary. I think we can reasonably conclude that he has taken the medication and is now competent since this hearing would not have been scheduled, unless he were competent and his lawyers were able to explain and discuss the terms of the plea agreement, including the important constitutional rights he will be giving up, if he pleads guilty.

We can expect one or more mental health experts will testify tomorrow that he is competent. That is, that he is oriented as to time and place, understands his legal predicament and the possible consequences if convicted, can tell the difference between the truth and a lie, can communicate with his lawyers and assist them to represent him, is capable of making decisions that are in his best interest, and understands the obligation to answer the Court’s questions truthfully.

Assuming the Court finds him competent, it will ask him a series of questions about the guilty plea to determine if he has read and reviewed it with his lawyers, understands all of its terms, and knows that he will give up the right to go to trial if he pleads guilty.

After confirming that he has knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently decided to waive his right to trial in order to receive the benefit of his agreement with the prosecution, the Court will ask him to state in his own words what he did.

Defendants usually follow the advice of their lawyers to provide a simple bare-bones set of facts that support the charges to which they are pleading guilty.

If the statement is sufficient, the Court will accept the guilty plea and approve the plea agreement.

Normally, sentencing takes place six weeks later to allow time for the United States Probation Office to prepare a report regarding the defendant’s role in the offenses, the applicable sentencing ranges for the offenses, and a sentencing recommendation. Since the parties and the Court will have agreed to the sentence, there will not be any need for the report. Do not be surprised if the Court waives the presentence report with the agreement of the prosecution and the defense and proceeds directly to impose a life sentence.

I believe this probably is a fair, just and equitable resolution of the case. I say “probably” because I do not know if the State of Arizona is satisfied with the outcome. The United States lacked jurisdiction to prosecute Mr. Loughner for four of the murders because those victims were not federal employees carrying out their official duties when they were killed.

The four private citizens were:

(1) Christina Taylor-Green (age 9);

(2) Dorwin Stoddard (age 76);

(3) Dorothy Murray (age 76); and

(4) Phyllis Schneck (age 79).

The State of Arizona has jurisdiction to prosecute Mr. Loughner for those four murders, since the crimes were committed in Arizona.

The State of Arizona also has a death penalty and it could prosecute Mr. Loughner for those murders and seek the death penalty, if he is convicted.

I believe the defense has attempted to do everything that it possibly can to persuade the state prosecutors to agree not to seek the death penalty against Mr. Loughner, if he pleads guilty to the federal charges.

I suspect they have decided not to seek the death penalty because they probably realize they would have no better chance than the federal prosecutors of convincing a jury to sentence Mr. Loughner to death, given the powerful mitigation evidence of mental illness.

Should this be the case, they may do nothing or they may have already agreed to charge Mr. Loughner with the four murders and the remaining crimes that the United States lacked jurisdiction to prosecute, but forego seeking the death penalty, if he pleads guilty to those offenses.

Although such an agreement would not add any time to his sentence, it might appease the prosecution’s desire to obtain convictions of record for crimes that Mr. Loughner committed but could not be prosecuted for in federal court due to lack of jurisdiction.

Mr. Loughner would not have much incentive to plead guilty in federal court to avoid the death penalty only to have Arizona seek the death penalty. Since he has agreed to plead guilty, I am inclined to believe that the State of Arizona has agreed not to seek the death penalty.

Three party global resolutions are tough, but not impossible to pull off. We will find out if that happened tomorrow.


Holmes: Why the Prosecution is Waiting to Decide Whether to Seek the Death Penalty

August 4, 2012

James Eagan Holmes has been charged with 24 counts of Murder in the First Degree and 116 counts of attempted murder for killing 12 people and wounding 58 during a shooting spree inside a movie theater at the midnight showing of the new Batman film, Dark Knight Rising.

Facts are difficult to come by because the Court “has issued a gag order on lawyers and law enforcement, sealing the court file and barring the University of Colorado, Denver from releasing public records relating to Holmes’ year there as a neuroscience graduate student.”

I have written two articles about the case here and here reviewing the potential civil liability of the University of Colorado to the victims of the shooting spree for the alleged failure of its employees, psychiatrist Dr. Lynne Fenton and the members of the university’s threat assessment team to warn the police about a possible threat to harm people that Mr. Holmes may have expressed to Dr. Fenton on or about the day that he formally withdrew in early June as a student in a Ph.D. program in neuroscience.

Probably due to the Court’s gag order, the school has not yet disclosed the specifics of Mr. Holmes’s statement to Dr. Fenton. All that we know so far is that she attempted to convene the mental health clinic’s threat assessment team to review what he said, but the team declined to do so because he had withdrawn from the school.

As I explained in my two articles, given the restrictive and limiting language in the Colorado statute, I believe it is unlikely that the university will be held liable to the victims of the shooting for failing to warn the police about Mr. Holmes. We will have to wait and see what Mr. Holmes said to Dr. Fenton before we can definitively wrap up this discussion.

Now I want to discuss a different subject in the case; namely, the death penalty. The prosecution has charged Mr. Holmes with two murder counts per homicide victim. The two charges contain different elements and basically allege two different ways to commit the same offense. CBS News explains:

Holmes is facing two separate charges for each person killed or injured. The second charge for each alleges that in killing or injuring, Holmes evidenced “an attitude of universal malice manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life generally.”

The prosecution announced shortly after filing charges against Mr. Holmes, that it has not yet decided whether it will seek the death penalty, if Mr. Holmes is convicted of murder.

Translated into the language we speak, that means it is waiting for the defense to complete its mitigation investigation and submit its report to the prosecution to consider in determining whether to file a notice that it will seek the death penalty.

Mitigation evidence is any evidence about the defendant or the crime he committed that in fairness or in mercy calls for a sentence of less than death.

Mr. Holmes appears to suffer from a serious mental illness, possibly a type of schizophrenia. The defense likely has assembled a team of mental health experts who are testing and evaluating his competency to stand trial and well as his mental functioning. No doubt they have been reaching far back into his life collecting all existing school, medical and mental health records.

Mitigation investigation has developed into an art form as well as a necessary and highly specialized skill over the course of the past 30 years. The most common reason for appellate court reversals of death sentences has been ineffective assistance of defense counsel for failing to conduct a thorough mitigation investigation.

A diagnosis of schizophrenia would be powerful mitigating evidence, even if it did not establish legal insanity, because schizophrenia is a debilitating mental disease over which a person has little or no control. Therefore, traditional arguments for the death penalty that are based on the idea of holding people accountable for their actions by sentencing them to death, lose power in the face of evidence that the person is delusional, not like others, and incapable of making responsible decisions on a regular basis. Most people recognize that there is something fundamentally unfair about sentencing someone to death who lacked the capacity to make rational decisions.

Mr. Holmes may also satisfy the test for legal insanity. That is, that he suffers from a mental disease or defect such that he cannot distinguish between right and wrong and conform his conduct to the requirements of law. Insanity is another mitigating factor.

Regardless of his mental condition, however, he committed horrific acts that required sufficient capacity to plan and carry out a moderately complicated scheme.

When the prosecution receives the defense mitigation report, it will submit it to its own panel of mental health experts for review and comment.

Eventually, both sides will meet and engage in serious discussions regarding whether a mentally ill man should be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison without possibility of parole.

Whether the prosecution ultimately decides to file the notice that it will seek the death penalty will depend on the outcome of those discussions and the thoroughness and quality of the defense mitigation report.


Zimmerman, Loughner and Holmes: Are they Evil?

July 28, 2012

James Eagan Holmes allegedly killed 12 people and wounded 58 at the midnight opening of the new Batman film at a movie theater in Aurora, CO.

He had recently dropped out of the University of Colorado Medical School where he was enrolled in the Neuroscience doctoral program and we now know that he was a patient of Dr. Lynn Fenton, a psychiatrist and member of the medical school faculty specializing in the causes and treatment schizophrenia. She also is in charge of Student Mental Health Services.

Given his red and orange hair that he had recently dyed, he apparently believed himself to be or he assumed the role of the Joker, Batman’s arch enemy.

The Telegraph reports:

Police have said that he planned the attack meticulously, ordering ammunition and paramilitary supplies over the internet and buying four weapons legally at gun-stores in the Denver area over two months.

He also rigged his apartment with potentially lethal explosive devices that investigators believe were intended to kill police officers when they arrived to search his home.

The Telegraph reports that Holmes claims he does not recall the incident.

He is scheduled to appear in court Monday at which time he will be formally charged.

Colorado is a death penalty state and likely will seek the death penalty.

Like Jared Loughner, who potentially faces the death penalty for killing six people in Tucson, AZ, including U.S. District Court Judge John Roll and a 9-year-old girl, as well as wounding 14 others, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Holmes may not be competent to stand trial.

A person cannot be tried for a crime unless they are competent to stand trial.

To be competent, they must be oriented as to time and place, comprehend the charges against them, appreciate their legal peril, recall the events that caused them to be charged, and be able to communicate with and assist their attorneys to defend them.

According to the Telegraph, Holmes claims that he does not recall the incident. If that is true, he is incompetent to stand trial.

Should he become competent, he probably will assert the insanity defense.

Colorado combines the M’Naughten Rule with the irresistible impulse rule defining legal insanity as follows:

Whether as the result of a mental disease or defect, the defendant is unable to distinguish between right and wrong and conform his conduct to the requirements of law, or if he can distinguish between right and wrong, is he unable to stop himself from committing the crime.

The biggest stumbling block to satisfying the legal test for insanity is establishing that the defendant could not tell right from wrong. Any behavior that indicates an effort to conceal evidence or the crime itself demonstrates that, however delusional and psychotic a person may have been, they still knew they had committed a crime and sought to escape responsibility for it.

Many people use the word evil to describe people like Jared Loughner and James Eaton Holmes and the acts they allegedly committed.

But what constitutes evil?

Does evil exist?

Is evil something dark and satanic that exists somewhere out “there?”

Does it possess people?

If so, how does that happen?

If it does not exist out “there, where does it exist?”

Are people born evil?

How should the criminal justice system deal with evil, or should it ignore it?

Assuming evil exists, does it increase or diminish personal responsibility for committing crimes?

Assuming for the sake of argument that Jared Loughner committed the crimes charged, is he evil?

If convicted, should he be sentenced to death?

Assuming for the sake of argument that James Eaton Holmes committed the crimes charged, is he evil?

If convicted, should he be sentenced to death?

Finally, what about George Zimmerman?

Is he evil?


Is Anders Behring Breivik Insane?

May 8, 2012

ABreivik

Flickr Creative Commons
Image by Oslo Politidistrikt’s Photostream

I. Introduction

Anders Behring Breivik has admitted to killing 77 people in Norway on July 22, 2011. He detonated a home-made fertilizer bomb that he placed in a parked vehicle next to several government buildings in downtown Oslo killing 8 people. Then he took a ferry to an island where he shot and killed 69 people, mostly teenagers, at a camp operated by the Worker’s Youth League of Norway’s Labour Party. He said he deliberately killed all of these people to protect the white race from multicultural infection by immigrants, principally Muslims.

He is on trial and the legal issue the court must decide is whether he was insane at the time of the offense.

If the court determines that he was insane, he will be placed in a secure mental health facility for an indeterminate period of time, subject to periodic reviews of his mental health to determine if he is safe to be released.

If the court determines that he is not insane, he will be sentenced to prison for a period of not more than 21 years. However, that sentence may be extended in 5 year increments, until such time as he is deemed safe to be released.

In neither case will he likely be released.

Norway does not have a death penalty.

Wkipedia reports:

Breivik was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia by the court-appointed psychiatrists. According to their report, Breivik acted compulsively based on a delusional thought universe. Among other things, he alluded to himself as a future regent of Norway pending a takeover by a Templar-like organization. Imagining himself as regent, his ideas included organizing Norwegians in reservations and using them in breeding projects. Other psychiatrists disagree that he is psychotic or schizophrenic, and on 13 January 2012, after much public pressure, the Oslo district court ordered a second expert panel to evaluate Breivik’s mental state. On 10 April 2012 the second psychiatric evaluation was published with the conclusion that Breivik was not psychotic during the attacks and he was not psychotic during their evaluation; rather he is an extreme narcissist.

(footnotes omitted)

Breivik claims he is not insane. He insists that he should be acquitted and released or convicted and sentenced to death.

To get a sense of his mental state, what he was thinking, and why he did what he did, please read the Wikipedia day-by-day trial summary of his five day testimony and the day-by-day trial coverage by the BBC.

(Caution: His testimony is graphic, chilling, and possibly disorienting)

Insanity is a legal definition and, therefore, a creature of legislative invention. It is not a recognized mental illness. Whether a person is insane when they commit a crime, depends on the statutory definition in effect in the jurisdiction where the crime was committed.

II. The United States

Several rules have been applied in the United States, although today, the M’Naughten test prevails in most jurisdictions.

A. M’Naughten Test

A majority of the states in the United States follow the M’Naughten Rule, which is based on a common law English case and requires proof of two elements, a cognitive and a volitional element:

Whether at the time that he committed the offense, the defendant

1. Was suffering from a mental disease or defect, such that he could not distinguish between right and wrong, (the cognitive element) and

2.. Conform his conduct to the requirements of law (the volitional element).

I do not believe there is any question that Breivik would be found sane in a jurisdiction applying the M’Naughten Rule because, regardless whether he was suffering from a mental disease or defect, he has admitted that he knew killing was wrong.

B. Irresistible Impulse Test

The irresistible-impulse test is a modification of the M’Naughten Test that retains the first prong (i.e., suffering from a mental disease or defect) but no longer requires that the defendant be unable to tell right from wrong, if, due to an irresistible impulse, he is unable to conform his conduct to the requirements of law. In other words, although he can distinguish between right and wrong, his mental illness eliminates his ability to choose how to act and his crime is the sole product of his mental illness. Alabama was the first state to adopt it in 1887.

C. Durham Test

The Durham test, which was developed in the 1950s, is similar to the irresistible impulse test. Under this test, a defendant is insane, if his crime was the product of his mental illness. That is, but for his mental illness, he would not have committed the crime.

The first team of mental health experts diagnosed Breivik as a paranoid schizophrenic acting “compulsively based on a delusional thought universe.” This diagnosis appears to satisfy both the irresistible-impulse and Durham tests.

D. Substantial Capacity Test

In 1962 a committee of judges, lawyers and professors selected by the American Law Institute developed the Model Penal Code (MPC) in an effort to rewrite and standardize the criminal laws in the United States. Since then, most states have adopted most, if not all of its provisions. Regarding the insanity defense, the Committee invented a new rule called the substantial-capacity test. According to Wikipedia,

Under the MPC standard, which represents the modern trend, a defendant is not responsible for criminal conduct “if at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.” The test thus takes into account both the cognitive and volitional capacity of insanity.

Since the public outrage that followed John Hinckley’s insanity acquittal for his attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, most jurisdictions in the United States now follow the M’Naughten test and place the burden of proving insanity on the defendant

I think Breivik would be found insane under the MPC substantial-capacity test, although there is certainly a legitimate argument that, despite his mental illness, he retained both the capacity to know that what he was doing was unlawful (the cognitive element) and the capacity or ability to decide not to do it (the volitional element). The outcome under this test ultimately depends on what constitutes “substantial” capacity.

III. Norwegian Law

Whether a defendant is insane under Norwegian law depends on whether he was psychotic while committing the crime. That means the defendant has lost contact with reality to the point that he no longer was in control of his own actions. This test eliminates the volitional element of insanity and focuses entirely on the cognitive element.

IV. The Breivik Issue

Many people have disagreed with the first psychiatric report in the Breivik case (diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia) because his conduct demonstrated a considerable capacity and ability to premeditate over a lengthy period of time and carry-out a complicated scheme to commit mass murder. They ask whether a person who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia could do what he has admitted and boasted of doing.

Due to this concern, the court appointed a second panel to evaluate Breivik and it concluded that he was not insane. Rather than a paranoid schizophrenic, this panel concluded that he suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder, which is not a mental illness.

V. Does Breivik Suffer From Paranoid Schizophrenia With Double Bookkeeping?

While it is generally true that a person who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia would not be capable of the premeditation and planning exhibited by Breivik, there is a condition called “double bookkeeping” in which the patient lives in two worlds at the same time, the delusional world and the real world. Both worlds seem equally real to the patient who has no difficulty believing that other people do not see all that he sees or hear all that he hears. This condition was first identified by Bleuler.

If I were a judge in the Breivik case, I would be inclined to conclude that he is delusional and psychotic, particularly because he is so insistent that he is sane, as opposed to claiming insanity and attempting to act crazy to support his claim. At the same time, the vast majority of paranoid schizophrenics are incapable of his planning and actions. His ordinary or sane thinking seems narcissistic, so I am inclined to think he suffers from the relatively rare form of paranoid schizophrenia called double bookkeeping in which he suffers from both paranoid delusional thinking and a narcissistic personality disorder.

I would ask both teams of psychiatrists to comment on the possibility that I raise before making a decision, although I would be leaning toward a finding of insanity.

No matter the outcome of the debate, I doubt Breivik will ever be deemed safe to be released. However, the development of insanity law will likely be affected.

Finally, the quiet elegant dignity of the Norwegian people while according Mr. Breivik his right to due process of law is one of the most amazing and inspirational events I have ever witnessed.


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