Tuesday, November 13, 2007
In a recent criminal case decided by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, the court ordered a new trial for a mother convicted of first-degree felony murder of her child. The defendant put on an insanity defense. The government attacked her defense by offering evidence that she had asserted her Miranda rights. The court held that the admission of the rights card was "error, which was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt."
There was conflicting evidence about the defendant's sanity and the implications of her prior (and arguably current) use of PCP. The court engages in a thoughtful discussion of "where the defense of voluntary intoxication ends and the insanity defense begins." Where mental illness is caused by drug abuse, "the defense must demonstrate that as a consequence of the mental condition, the accused could not appreciate or conform to the requirements of the law." the defendant failed to establish a prima facie case of such "settled insanity."
The case got me thinking of how much more expansive the bar disciplinary systems generally are in considering alcohol and drug addiction as mitigation for ethics violations. There is general agreement that bar programs that provide treatment to addicted lawyers are a good thing. There is less agreement that a free pass for rehabilitating lawyers is in the public interest. (Mike Frisch)