Leonardo Angiulo: The Steroid Defense For Murder?
Monday, August 19, 2013
According to some recent reports out of Boston, murder suspect Jared Remy is huge. Working out must be a full time job for this guy because dude is jacked. So let's run a hypothetical: What if a murder suspect was a long time Steroid user whose mental health had deteriorated into mental disease or defect as a result of his habitual use. How would that mental disease or defect impact the suspect's murder trial if one in fact did occur?
To start, the legal principle controlling this analysis is known as the defense of lack of criminal responsibility. It's also widely known as the insanity defense. It is arguably one of the most commonly identified, most ridiculed and least understood defenses to a criminal charge out there. Functionally, every criminal charge has elements and each must be presented, and proven beyond a reasonable doubt, for a person to be guilty. Some crimes, like premeditated murder, require the defendant to have specifically intended the death of another. The formation of specific intent fundamentally requires an appropriately functioning mental capacity. The defense of a lack of criminal responsibility is raised to say: “yes, the defendant did the thing he is accused of, but when it happened he was so affected by a mental disease or defect that he did not have the required mental state.”
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case of Commonwealth v. McHoul establishes the legal standard for this defense. In these types of case cases the question, as highlighted in Commonwealth v. DiPadova, becomes whether the defendant lacked the substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct, or to conform his conduct to the law, or both because of a mental illness, disease, or defect.
The DiPadova decision also explains how the law cuts an important distinction between: a) criminal irresponsibility due to legitimate mental illness, disease or defect, and b) decisions arising out of voluntary consumption of substances, alcoholism and drug addiction. On the one hand, criminal irresponsibility entitles a person to a verdict of not guilty under the McHoul standard. On the other hand, a lack of substantial capacity arising out of voluntary substance consumption does not meet the McHoul definition of mental disease or defect.
Anyone with a passing understanding of our culture generally, psychology specifically, or even those who have ever stayed out a little too late on a Saturday night knows that mental health and substance abuse sometimes go hand in hand. The 2010 case of Commonwealth v. Barry acknowledged this reality and brought important context to this defense. Because of Commonwealth v. Barry, when a person's mental health condition causes a lack of substantial capacity, they will not be barred from raising the lack of criminal responsibility if they had also voluntarily consumed drugs or alcohol on the night in question.
This is true when that consumption exacerbated or aggravated the symptoms of a mental condition, even if the defendant knew such aggravation may occur, so long as the defendant already lacked criminal responsibility without the effects of the substances. But as the DiPadova court pointed out the remaining question becomes whether the cause of his loss of substantial capacity was the result of the consumption or the mental condition. In other situations, if a person did not know the consumption would cause him to lose his ability to legally control himself then the combination of consumption and mental illness can still be raised at trial. The DiPadova opinion establishes that a jury would have to decide whether the defendant knew his consumption would push him over the edge in order to decide whether he was criminally responsible or not.
This is also an example of when trials become battles between experts in forensic psychology hired by both the defense and prosecution. These parties testify during the trial to allow the finder of fact, be it judge or jury, to make an decision based on evidence. As always, which expert is believed remains a question that can only be answered by that particular judge or jury based on those particular facts.
No matter what you may think about the insanity defense, remember that it will probably only be raised after a doctor or two or more has a chance to interview the defendant. In addition, Massachusetts Rule of Criminal Procedure 14(b)(2) lays out how the pretrial process of a defense of lack of criminal responsibility is supposed to happen. If defense counsel ultimately chooses to raise this defense, then doctors from both sides must have the chance to meet with a defendant and then present their findings to a jury. These experts are undeniably important to finders of fact because the human mind is a complicated thing. The sad reality is that sometimes mental health problems lead to substance abuse and sometimes the other way around is true too. Just like every life is different, the facts of every case is as well.
There are many things this column cannot and will not presume about Mr. Jared Remy or the events of that fateful night. How his case proceeds will be the result of discussions between him and his attorneys. What can be said with certainty, however, is that some people charged with murder have serious underlying mental conditions that must be raised in order for justice to be done at trial. Sometimes the truth is ugly but because of how our system of justice works the truth comes to the light of day. And that is what trials are all about.
Leonardo Angiulo is an Attorney with the firm of Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouski in Worcester handling legal matters across the Commonwealth. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the firm's website at www.gskandglaw.com.
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