Mental incapacity does not occur "because of legal insanity;" instead both insanity and diminished capacity are legal conclusions derived from evidence of defendant's mental condition. Consequently, if the evidence of a defendant's mental illness indicates that the defendant lacked the specific intent to commit the charged crime, such evidence cannot reasonably be ignored at the guilt trial merely because it might also persuade the trier of fact that the defendant is insane.
Defendant, who was charged with burglary, argued that psychiatric reports showed that he lacked the specific intent required for conviction of the crime because of mental illness. The trial court refused to admit the psychiatric reports describing defendant's insanity as well as his diminished capacity, reasoning that such descriptions should not be admitted to prove lack of specific intent. Thereafter, the trial court found defendant guilty of second-degree burglary and, relying on the reports, it found him insane and, hence, not guilty because of insanity. At a subsequent hearing, the trial court ordered defendant committed for treatment based on its conclusion that he had not recovered his sanity. Defendant appealed the commitment order, contending that the trial court erred in excluding evidence of his lack of specific intent to commit burglary in the guilt phase of the trial. The state supreme court reversed the commitment order and remanded the case.
Was evidence of defendant’s insanity, which tended to prove lack of specific intent, admissible at the guilt phase of the trial?
The trial court erroneously refused to consider at the guilt phase evidence which clearly indicated that defendant believed that he owned the apartment and its contents, and thus entered the apartment without specific intent to commit a theft. If the court had considered that evidence, it was reasonably probable that it would not have found defendant guilty of burglary.