July 20, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Crim. P. 32(d) Does Not Allow Withdrawal of Pleas of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Laeke on Thursday, May 31, 2018.

Criminal Procedure—Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity—Crim. P. 32(d)—Withdrawal of Guilty Plea—C.R.S. § 16-8-115.

The prosecution charged defendant with one count of criminal attempt to commit unlawful sexual contact and one count of indecent exposure. These charges were based on events that occurred while defendant was a patient at a psychiatric ward. Defense counsel entered an insanity plea on defendant’s behalf over his objection. The court ultimately accepted defendant’s insanity plea, and it found defendant not guilty by reason of insanity. Defendant spent almost 10 years at the Mental Health Institute. Shortly after being placed in the community, defendant filed a Crim P. 32(d) motion to withdraw his insanity plea, which the trial court denied.

On appeal, defendant argued that the court erred by denying his Rule 32(d) motion. A request to withdraw a plea under Rule 32(d) applies only to guilty pleas and nolo contendere pleas, not to pleas of not guilty by reason of insanity. Further, an insanity plea should not be treated as the equivalent of a guilty plea for purposes of Rule 32(d). Rule 32(d) did not apply to defendant’s request to withdraw his insanity plea.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Insanity Defense Applies At the Time of Commission of the Act

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Eastwood on Thursday, October 22, 2015.

Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity—Unlawful Possession of a Weapon on School Grounds—Attempted Murder—Assault—Child Abuse Resulting in Injury.

Defendant took a loaded rifle to his former middle school, where he shot and injured two students. A jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity on 10 of 11 counts, but guilty of unlawful possession of a weapon on school grounds.

On appeal, defendant contended that the evidence was not sufficient for a jury to conclude that he was sane when he unlawfully possessed a weapon on school grounds. Whereas the charged crimes of attempted murder, assault, and child abuse resulting in injury were limited to the few seconds in which defendant fired his rifle, the weapon possession charge spanned a longer time period. The jury could have viewed the evidence as demonstrating that, before the shooting, defendant was able to rationally interact with the clerk at the sporting goods store, the restaurant employee, and staff members and children at the school.

Further, some of the experts’ testimony supported the conclusion that although defendant was insane when he fired the shots at the children, he was able to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct at other times that day. Taken together, the lay person and expert testimony was sufficient for the jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant was sane when he arrived at the school with a rifle, even if the jury was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant was sane when he actually fired the shots later that afternoon. The judgment, sentence, and order were affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Psychiatrist’s Brief Statements Tending to Imply Guilt Harmless

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Marko on Thursday, October 8, 2015.

First-Degree Murder—Sexual Assault—Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity—Challenge for Cause—Mistrial—Miranda—Motion to Suppress—Search Warrant—Prosecutorial Misconduct—Military—Right to Counsel—Voluntariness—Merger—Multiplicity.

The victim met with Marko after knowing him a few months through an online social network account. Marko admitted driving the victim to the mountains, where he knocked her unconscious, sexually assaulted her, blindfolded and gagged her, and cut her throat with a knife, killing her. At trial, a jury rejected Marko’s insanity defense and found him guilty of first-degree murder, sexual assault, and attempted sexual assault.

On appeal, Marko argued that the court erred in denying the challenge for cause to Juror C because Juror C made un-rehabilitated statements indicating an inability to follow the law on the insanity defense. Any error was harmless because Juror C did not serve on the jury, and Marko failed to show that he was prejudiced by it.

Marko also argued that the trial court erred in denying his motion for a mistrial after Juror M expressed concerns in front of the other jurors that Marko would be released in a short period of time if he were found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI). Juror M’s statements, however, did not indicate that he had any personal knowledge regarding how long those found NGRI were committed. Therefore, it could not be shown that the statements affected the verdict merely because they were improper, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in failing to declare a mistrial.

Marko further argued that the trial court erroneously concluded that he was not in custody during the portion of the October 11 interview with the sheriff’s officers that occurred before he was advised of his Miranda rights, and thus the court erred in denying his motion to suppress the statements he made at that time. Marko was subject to restraint on his freedom of movement by virtue of his position in the military. However, because Marko was informed at the outset of the interview that he was not under arrest and was free to go at any time, he was not in custody during this portion of the interview. After Marko was advised of his Miranda rights, he did not thereafter properly invoke his right to silence by stating that he wanted to go home. Therefore, his statements were voluntary. Additionally, Marko did not invoke his right to counsel by stating he wanted an attorney only if the detective was going to administer a truth verification exam. Therefore, the trial court did not err in denying his motion to suppress.

Additionally, Marko argued that the trial court erred in not suppressing the evidence obtained from the search of his barracks room because the search was not conducted pursuant to a valid search warrant. Even if the search warrant was invalid, the law enforcement officers involved in obtaining and executing the warrant acted in an objectively reasonable manner. Therefore, the trial court did not err.

Marko also argued that the psychiatrist’s testimony violated CRS § 16-8-107(1)(a) and (1.5)(a) because the psychiatrist who performed his court-ordered sanity examination testified that Marko knew his actions were wrong rather than confining his testimony to whether Marko had the capacity to distinguish right from wrong or form the culpable mental state at the time of the offense. Evidence acquired for the first time from communications derived from a defendant’s mental processes during the court-ordered examination is admissible only as to the issue of insanity. Therefore, the psychiatrist’s statements that Marko knew the wrongfulness of his actions violated CRS § 16-8-107 and defendant’s right against self-incrimination. However, any error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because the other evidence regarding this issue was substantial, the psychiatrist’s comments were minimal, and the prosecution limited her comments to issues raised by the NGRI plea.

Marko additionally argued that the prosecutor made several statements during voir dire and closing argument that constituted prosecutorial misconduct. Although some of the statements were improper, they did not require reversal.

Finally, Marko argued, and the Court of Appeals agreed, that his attempted sexual assault convictions must be vacated under the doctrine of merger because the attempted sexual assault charges are lesser included offenses of the sexual assault charges. The judgment was affirmed in part, Marco’s convictions and sentences for attempted sexual assault were vacated, and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: District Court Did Not Err in Refusing to Apply Acceptance-of-Responsibility Sentence Adjustment

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in United States v. Herriman on Tuesday, January 14, 2014.

After planting a bomb near a gas pipeline, Daniel Herriman voluntarily turned himself in to the authorities and confessed. When he was criminally charged for his conduct, he pleaded not guilty and presented a defense to the jury based on his mental illness. Unpersuaded, the jury convicted him. Mr. Herriman then sought a downward adjustment to his sentence under § 3E1.1 of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines (“U.S.S.G.” or “Guidelines”) on the ground that he had accepted responsibility for his actions. The district court declined to make the adjustment. Mr. Herriman appealed.

On appeal, Mr. Herriman attacked the district court’s refusal to apply the acceptance-of-responsibility adjustment in two related respects: (1) the district court committed reversible error by denying the adjustment; and (2) the district court committed reversible error by failing to offer any factual findings to supports its decision. As explained below, the court held both arguments were foreclosed by the Tenth Circuit’s precedent.

First, Mr. Herriman urged the court to reverse the district court on the basis that it improperly refused to adjust his sentence downward to reflect his acceptance of responsibility, as permitted by U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1. Generally, the acceptance-of-responsibility adjustment is not intended to apply to a defendant who puts the government to its burden of proof at trial. The court concluded that in order to prevail, Mr. Herriman had to demonstrate that he only disputed purely legal questions in going to trial and did not contest material facts relating to his guilt of the charged offenses.

Mr. Herriman did not make that showing. The court simplified the issue as follows: Mr. Herriman’s mens rea argument and his insanity defense were both based on his mental condition. The dispositive question, then, was whether the parties were in agreement regarding the facts relating to that condition and the condition’s effects on Mr. Herriman at the time of the charged crime. After reviewing the record, the court was confident that they were not. The defense’s theory was that Mr. Herriman was in a delusional state at the time he committed the offense. The government took the opposite position: it maintained that Mr. Herriman was not delusional or psychotic at the time he created the bomb and placed it near the gas pipeline. As such, the parties were not in agreement regarding the fact of Mr. Herriman’s mental condition at the time he made and placed the bomb. And the nature of their factual disagreement was material to Mr. Herriman’s guilt of the charged offenses. Accordingly, the court could not discern how Mr. Herriman could qualify for a § 3E1.1 downward adjustment.

In addition, Mr. Herriman lodged a closely related claim that the factual findings underlying the district court’s decision to deny him the benefit of a § 3E1.1 adjustment were inadequate. However, not only did the district court do what precedent required—identify the conduct of Mr. Herriman that disqualified him for the acceptance-of-responsibility downward adjustment—it went further and explained why that conduct disqualified him for the reduction.

The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the requested adjustment


Colorado Supreme Court: Trial Court Abused Discretion By Qualifying Virus as Substance That Can Result in Intoxication

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in In re People v. Voth on Monday, October 21, 2013.

Involuntary Intoxication—CRS § 18-1-804—Insanity—CRS § 16-8-101.5.

In this original CAR 21 proceeding, the Supreme Court held that the trial court abused its discretion when it found that a virus qualifies as a “substance” that can result in intoxication under CRS § 18-1-804. The Court further held that a defendant who is found to be legally insane at the time of the offense, but shortly thereafter regains sanity, may assert insanity as an affirmative defense if he or she meets all of the other relevant requirements.

The Court’s rule to show cause why the trial court’s order should not be vacated was made absolute. The case was remanded for further proceedings.

Summary and full case available here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Reversal Required in Insanity Plea Case Because Competency Evaluation Report Statutorily Deficient

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Presson on Thursday, August 15, 2013.

Murder—Competency Examination.

Defendant appealed the judgment of conviction entered on jury verdicts finding her guilty of first-degree murder after deliberation and felony menacing. She also appealed her convictions for possession of a weapon by a previous offender, attempted second-degree assault, and attempted escape, entered pursuant to her guilty plea. The Court of Appeals reversed and the case was remanded with directions.

After fatally shooting the victim, defendant entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. After a sanity examination and an initial competency examination, the court ordered a second competency evaluation. Defendant refused to meet with the evaluator, Dr. Bradley. Dr. Bradley submitted a report to the court stating that although he had reviewed voluminous medical and other records, he lacked sufficient information to provide an opinion concerning defendant’s competency.

On appeal, defendant contended that reversal was required because Dr. Bradley’s competency evaluation report was statutorily deficient. Dr. Bradley’s report did not contain the statutorily required diagnosis, prognosis, and opinions. On receiving an incomplete second evaluation, a court is required to order (1) that the evaluator render an opinion based on the available information, if possible, despite the defendant’s noncooperation; or (2) that the defendant be returned to the appropriate facility for further observation so that a competency opinion can be rendered. In this case, Dr. Bradley stated that he had insufficient information from which to render an opinion, and the trial court declined to return defendant to the Colorado Mental Health Institute to complete the evaluation. This error was not harmless. Therefore, reversal was required. Thus, the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Summary and full case available here.