An Insanity Instruction is Required Even Without Expert Testimony on Insanity

The First District recently held that the trial court erred in not grant a defendant’s request for an insanity jury instruction. People v. Dwight, 2006 Ill.App.Lexis 1045 (1st Dist.). In Dwight, the defendant was charged with armed robbery. The victim testified that the defendant approached her while she was seated in her car, originally asked for directions, and then said that he “wanted something” from her. The defendant next asked the victim to be his girlfriend, and then pulled out a gun and took a cell phone charger and a work identification card from the victim.

At trial, the defendant asserted insanity. The defense presented testimony from the defendant’s wife and mother. Both testified that the defendant started exhibiting strange and paranoid behavior prior to the armed robbery, including stating the belief that the FBI and CIA were trying to kill him, stating that he believed he was God, and causing physical harm to himself. Moreover, while no expert testified directly that the defendant was insane at the time of the crime, several experts who examined the defendant diagnosed him with bipolar disorder, manic depression, and paranoid delusional disorder. In rebuttal, the prosecution presented the testimony of a psychiatrist who testified that he believed that the defendant was sane at the time of the crime. Based on this record, the trial court denied the defendant’s request for an insanity instruction.

On appeal, the First District reversed, holding that it was reversible error for the trial court to preclude the insanity jury instruction. The Dwight court held that an expert opinion on the ultimate issue of sanity is not a prerequisite to an insanity instruction. Rather, the defendant need only present enough evidence that, if believed by a reasonable jury, would substantiate an insanity defense.

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  1. Julie Hull
    Posted December 21, 2006 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Also, important in this case of mine is the holding that when Expert A uses the report of Expert B as part of the basis of his or her opinion, and Expert B does not testify, defendant is entitled to a limiting jury instruction stating that Expert B’s report and opinions contained therein are not to be considered as substantive evidence or for the truth of the matter asserted. In this case, Expert B testified that Defendant was malingering insanity at the time of the offense because he gave an exculpatory statement to to Expert A (2 years after the offense)but told Expert B (4 years later) he could not remember the event. Hence, according to Expert B, defendant was malingering insanity. This limiting instruction is rooted in Wilson v. Clark 84 Ill.2d 186 (1981) Note, however, the Federal Rules of Evidence 703 & 705 flat out prohibit Expert B’s report, data or opinions from being conveyed to the jury. Unfortunately, I could not persuade the First District to adopt this position, so the limiting instruction is still our only remedy.

  2. Julie Hull
    Posted April 4, 2007 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    The State’s PLA was denied in this case on March 28th. So, unless a motion to reconsider is granted, one does not need an expert to get an insanity instruction.

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