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Law School Case Brief

Frendak v. United States - 408 A.2d 364 (D.C. 1979)

Rule:

A trial judge will still have the duty to confront the insanity issue if the evidence adduced in the proceedings raises a sufficient question as to a defendant's mental responsibility at the time of the crime. The judge will also continue to have the discretion to interpose an insanity defense sua sponte against the will of a defendant competent to stand trial. That discretion, however, is limited. Rather than permit a trial judge to raise an insanity defense whenever there is a sufficient quantum of evidence supporting the defense, the court requires the judge to respect the choice of a defendant capable of voluntarily and intelligently making that choice. The court will now have the discretion to raise an insanity defense sua sponte only if the defendant is not capable of making, and has not made, an intelligent and voluntary decision.

Facts:

At approximately 2:15 on the afternoon of January 15, 1974, Willard Titlow left his office on the seventh floor. Appellant Paula Frendak, a co-worker, departed immediately afterwards, explaining to a secretary that she had an appointment with her attorney. Within minutes, Titlow was discovered fatally shot in the first floor hallway of the building. Following the shooting, Frendak left Washington, traveling through Atlanta, Miami, Mexico City, Spain, and Turkey before she was arrested on February 11, 1974 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, after refusing to surrender her passport at the airport. A later search of her baggage revealed that she was carrying a .38 caliber pistol, 45 rounds of ammunition, two empty cartridges, and a pocket knife. On March 13, 1974, authorities in Abu Dhabi surrendered Frendak to the United States Marshal, who brought her back to the District of Columbia to face charges relating to the murder of Willard Titlow. On May 29, 1974, Frendak was indicted for first-degree murder and carrying a pistol without a license. In the months preceding her trial, Frendak underwent a series of psychiatric examinations to determine her competency. After four rounds of competency hearings, Frendak was found to be suffering from a personality disorder but that she was able to cooperate with her counsel, possessed a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against her, and was fully cognizant of the charges.  Accordingly, the court concluded that she was competent to stand trial, although it reserved the right to raise the competency issue sua sponteat any point in the proceedings. Although evidence of insanity had been introduced in the competency proceedings, Frendak refused to raise the insanity defense at trial. The court also ordered a mental examination of Frendak on the question of her criminal responsibility, the result of which had shown that at the time of Titlow's murder, Frendak had been suffering from a mental illness which impaired her behavioral controls to such an extent that she could not appreciate the wrongfulness of her conduct and could not conform her conduct to the requirements of the law. Thereafter, the trial court decided, over Frendak’s objection, to interpose the insanity defense. The jury then found Frendak not guilty by reason of insanity on both counts. On appeal, Frendak challenged the verdict, asserting that there was insufficient evidence of premeditation and deliberation to support the jury's initial determination that she committed first-degree murder. Frendak also attacked the trial judge's decision to raise the insanity defense on Frendak’s behalf over her objection. 

Issue:

Did the trial court err in deciding to raise the insanity defense on Frendak’s behalf over her objection?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The appellate court found that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict. On the issue of the trial judge's imposition of the insanity defense, the appellate court held that a trial court could not interpose the insanity defense on a defendant if it found that the defendant intelligently and voluntarily rejected the defense. Accordingly, the appellate court remanded the insanity issue to the trial court for further inquiry into whether defendant had made an intelligent and voluntary decision to forgo the insanity defense.

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