Law School Case Brief
State v. Korell - 213 Mont. 316, 690 P.2d 992 (1984)
The Montana Criminal Code does not permit punishment of a mentally ill person who has not committed a criminal act. Prior to sentencing, the court is required to consider the convicted defendant's mental condition at the time the offense was committed. This review is mandatory whenever a claim of mental disease or defect is raised. The plain language of the statute reads: the sentencing court shall consider any relevant evidence. Mont. Code Ann. § 46-14-311. Whenever the sentencing court finds the defendant suffered from a mental disease or defect, as described in § 46-14-311, the defendant must be placed in an appropriate institution for custody, care and treatment. Mont. Code Ann. § 46-14-312(2). These requirements place a heavy burden on the courts and the department of institutions. They serve to prevent imposition of cruel and unusual punishment upon the insane. Since the jury is properly preoccupied with proof of state of mind, it is imperative that the sentencing court discharge its responsibility to independently review the defendant's mental condition.
Jerry Korell, a Vietnam veteran with psychological problems, went to his supervisor's home with a gun, fired shots, and wounded him. Korell was found guilty of attempted deliberate homicide and aggravated assault and was sentenced to concurrent terms at a state prison. Korell appealed.
Did the Montana statutory scheme deprive Korell of a constitutional right to raise insanity as an independent defense?
The Supreme Court of Montana held that the county attorney's failure to give the court and Korell notice of a new rebuttal witness constituted clear error, which did not rise to the level of reversible error. The court held that the trial judge's refusal to independently evaluate Korell's mental condition flew in the face of the court's basic duty and compelled the court to vacate Korell's sentence and remand for resentencing. The court determined that the fact that the jury found the existence of a requisite mental state did not conclusively establish Korell's sanity or fitness for penal punishment. The court found that that determination was to have been independently made by the sentencing judge and the record was to have reflected the deliberative process.
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