Paul Simon, the poet laureate of my generation, penned this phrase in his 1975 hit album of the same name. In 1843 Daniel McNaughton, in a misguided attempt to shoot Robert Peel the British Prime Minister, wounded his secretary, Edward Drummond, who died shortly after. The case spawned the first rules to apply when an accused claimed insanity as a defense to criminal conduct. The first pronouncement was, not surprisingly, known as the McNaughton Rules.
McNaughton was found “not guilty by reason of insanity” and ordered to a mental hospital for treatment. The theory behind the rule was that mental disease had robbed the accused of the ability to reason and distinguish right from wrong.
The House of Lords set forth the rule, first indicating that in criminal trials the sanity of the accused is presumed. A legal presumption requires a jury to first accept the premise as a fact. Presumptions are rebuttable, however. Under McNaughton, “the jurors ought to be told in all cases that every man is presumed to be sane, and to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crimes, until the contrary be proved to their satisfaction; and that to establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.”
Today the defense is codified in statutes in most states, particularly Connecticut. In recent news reports, attorneys for a man accused of murdering a Wesleyan University student have recently filed notice they intend to use the defense. Notice of the defense must be given to the prosecutor who then can seek an examination of the accused to rebut the defense.
Connecticut General Statutes, sec. 53a-13 provides: “(a) In any prosecution for an offense, it shall be an affirmative defense that the defendant, at the time he committed the proscribed act or acts, lacked substantial capacity, as a result of mental disease or defect, either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to control his conduct within the requirements of the law.”
The burden of proving the defense and the nature of the proof needed are formidable tasks for an attorney. The defense will not apply where the mental deficiency results form the ingestion of alcohol or drugs. No will it apply to repeated anti-social behavior or compulsive gambling.
As an affirmative defense the burden rests upon the defendant to prove the defense by a preponderance of the evidence. Remember, in a criminal trial the state has the burden to prove guilt by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In contrast, the “preponderance of the evidence” is a lesser standard which we see in civil trials. We illustrate the difference by asking jurors to imagine the scales of justice in equipoise, balanced equally. If a party tips the scales, even slightly, in its favor by its proof then it has satisfied the “preponderance” standard.
Until recent years Connecticut juries were never told the probable outcome of a verdict of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. They were left to speculate than an accused may end up walking the streets again. Now they are informed of the process of evaluation and commitment for treatment in a secure facility.
Release after such a finding has become increasingly more difficult. In 1975 Matthew Quintiliano, a 14 year veteran of the Stratford Police Department, shot and killed his first wife. Acquitted by reason of insanity he was released shortly after when it was found that he was “no longer a danger to himself or others.” He remarried and in 1983 murdered his second wife.
In another noteworthy case an acquittee housed at Connecticut Valley Hospital was on furlough walking the streets of Middletown when he killed a young child. Another acquittee, Leslie Turner, had been released after doctors testified that he was controlled on anti-psychotic medication. His mental disease was not cured. On his release he failed to take his medication and relapsed, killing his grandmother.
These instances have led to a very strict review by the Psychiatric Security Review Board (PSRB) before an acquittee can be released, especially, if like Paul Simon says he’s “still crazy after all these years.”
Rich Meehan is a senior partner in the law firm of Meehan, Meehan & Gavin, LLP, Bridgeport, Conn. For more information on Rich or his firm go to http://www.meehanlaw.com or http://www.ctdentalmalpracticelawyer.com, or e-mail Rich at firstname.lastname@example.org