As promised, this blog will discuss how Attorney Sam Goldberg and I successfully used the insanity defense for one of our clients. In order to keep client/attorney confidentiality, I have altered various minor details and will be referring the client as Defendant.
The following is a brief summary of the police report detailing the incident that led to my “insane” Defendant’s arrest:
At approximately 3am on a Friday in November, Police received a call from a distressed resident, that an unknown individual (Defendant) had kicked open his door and entered his home. The Defendant began banging on the door screaming for his daughter. When he finally broke the door down he hit the male resident in the face with a construction level in order to get past him and search the house. Once police arrived on the scene, the Defendant was standing in the doorway of the residence holding a 4 foot metal contracting level. After the officers ordered that he drop the weapon, the individual, with a blank look in his eyes, took a batter’s stance and swung the level at them while laughing. Officers than drew their Tasers and again ordered that he drop the weapon. When he ignored the officer’s commands and began walking toward them while laughing. The officer used his Taser, dropping the individual to the ground. When the officers tried to cuff the individual, he began to wrestle with the officers, while “laughing maniacally.” The officers were forced to Taser him 5 separate times in order to subdue him. The individual was arrested and charged with Home Invasion, Assault and Battery With a Dangerous Weapon, 3 counts of Assault with a Dangerous Weapon, Vandalism, and Resisting Arrest.
And here is a summary of the Defendant’s case:
At the time of the incident, the defendant was actually a resident of Florida. He was only visiting Massachusetts to attend the funeral of a close friend. Along with mourning, the Defendant was under a lot of stress. He had numerous family issues, could not obtain a stable job, and was suffering from depression, anxiety and had trouble sleeping. After his first “psychotic” episode where he became lost and severely disoriented, his primary care physician prescribed him Risperdone. For a couple of months, the Risperdone seemed to be working, however, he soon noticed that he was gaining a lot of weight. Feeling comfortable without having any episodes, he decided to quite the medication cold turkey, without advising his physician. Unbeknownst to him, the effects of going on or off a full dose of Risperdone, rather than tapering off can have severe psychological effects.
At the time of the incident, the Defendant had been off the Risperdone for a couple of weeks. The funeral of his close friend was the day before the incident leading to his arrest. During the funeral, numerous attendees commented that the defendant was acting very strange and ask him if he was ok. That night, the defendant felt paranoid and slept in his struck, which was parked at a friend’s house, across the street from the victim’s house. His only memory of the entire incident was waking up in his car believing that his daughter (at the time in her 20s) was a little girl and locked in the house across the street. He then remembers grabbing the level and running across the street in an attempt to rescue his daughter. After his arrest, he was placed in a psych-ward until his medication could be properly administered. Once deemed stable, he was transferred to the local jail. At his arraignment, the prosecutor had asked that he be held without bail because he was a danger to society. The judge, after hearing the recitation of the police by the assistant district attorney, agreed.
Shortly after the arraignment, family members of the defendant retained our office to represent him. Our immediate job was to convince the judge that with the right supervision, the proper medication, and a GPS bracelet, it would be safe to release the Defendant during the pendency of this case. We presented to the judge: affidavits from treating physicians; a family member who was willing to have him live with her during the pendency of the case; a nurse who could come to the house to watch him take the medication daily; and a personal promise by the family member to keep a close watch over the Defendant or face the wrath of the judge. After the hearing, the Judge ordered his release. The next step was trying to keep him out.
In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a person may be found 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 (wrongfulness) of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. Commonwealth v. McHoul
In order to prove a metal disease or defect, the Defense must provide expert testimony from a psychiatrist or psychologist who examined the Defendant and can make a clinical finding of just that. Fortunately, we happen to know a number of forensic psychologists that we are able to refer our clients to for an evaluation.
Once the defense makes the determination to go with the “insanity defense” they must notify the Court and the Commonwealth of their intention. This requires that we submit a report from our expert to the court and the Commonwealth before trial, so that the Commonwealth can then have their own expert evaluate the Defendant and come to his/her own conclusion. If the Commonwealth’s expert comes to a separate finding than the defendant’s than it goes to a trial where the jury will hear testimony from both.
Luckily, in our case, the Defendant was found to lack criminal responsibility by both experts. We were able to work out a deal with the judge and the Commonwealth that he would be found not guilty by reason of insanity on all counts but one. He plead to a lesser offense with a year of probation. After his sentencing we helped to facilitate the transfer of probation to Florida so he could go home.