Law School Case Brief
State v. Smith - 136 Vt. 520, 396 A.2d 126 (1978)
The concept of "diminished capacity" is directed at the evidentiary duty of the State to establish those elements of a crime charged requiring a conscious mental ingredient. There is no question that it may overlap the insanity defense in that insanity itself is concerned with mental conditions so incapacitating as to totally bar criminal responsibility. The distinction is that diminished capacity is legally applicable to disabilities not amounting to insanity, and its consequences, in homicide cases, operate to reduce the degree of the crime rather than to excuse its commission. Evidence offered under this rubric is relevant to prove the existence of a mental defect or obstacle to the presence of a state of mind, which is an element of the crime, for example: premeditation or deliberation.
Defendant Richard Smith, a/k/a Kevin West, was accused of raping a babysitter and killing her charge, her eight-year old cousin. Smith had a history of personality disorders and had been treated at several state mental institutions. At trial, he attempted to assert an insanity defense. The lower court refused to allow the presentation of any evidence offered to establish the kinds and causes of Smith's claimed mental deficiencies, holding that the evidence was not relevant. Likewise, lay testimony relating to Smith's mental condition was excluded. On the other hand, the lower court allowed the State to present evidence on Smith's prior episodes of violent behavior.
Did the lower court err in refusing to allow the presentation of any evidence offered to establish the kinds and causes of Smith's claimed mental deficiencies?
The state supreme court held that the lower court erred when it refused to admit any of the mental state evidence offered by Smith because the exclusion of the evidence unlawfully kept Smith from presenting his claimed defense. Further, on remand, if the evidence in any form supported it, the lower court was to comply with any request to charge on the jury's duty to determine the existence of the state of mind required to establish Smith's alleged crimes.
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