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The appropriate construction of the term "incapable of distinguishing right from wrong with respect to the act" in 8A Colo. Rev. Stat. § 16-8-101 should be measured by existing societal standards of morality rather than by a defendant's personal and subjective understanding of the legality or illegality of the act in question.
The accused was charged with crimes of attempt to commit first degree murder after the accused stabbed his wife. The accused entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. The issue of legal insanity was tried to a jury, which returned a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. On appeal,the Colorado Court of Appeals held that respondent accused was insane under the legal test for insanity and affirmed the trial court. The Supreme Court of Colorado granted certiorari to review the decision of the court of appeals in order to determine the meaning of the phrase "incapable of distinguishing right from wrong" in the state's statutory definition of insanity in Colorado law.
Was the accused legally not guilty by reason of insanity?
The court held that "incapable of distinguishing right from wrong" refereed to a cognitive inability to distinguish right from wrong under existing societal standards of morality rather than under a purely subjective and personal standard of morality. In addition, rather than characterizing the deific-decree delusion as an exception to the right-wrong test for legal insanity, the court held that a defendant could be judged legally insane where the defendant's cognitive ability to distinguish right from wrong with respect to an act charged as a crime had been destroyed as a result of a psychotic delusion.