This case illustrates problems with the insanity defense.
When the facts don’t support an insanity defense, defense counsel will be precluded from presenting that defense. This in turn will kill any chances of a GBMI finding.
People v. Wood, 2014 IL App (1st) 121408 (July).
Defendants attorney could not ask for an insanity defense because their own expert testified defendant was sane when he killed his mother.
In 2008, Defendant’s mother was discovered in the storage room of her basement. She was dead, of course.
Her body was found on a couch at the back of the storage room with numerous items piled on top of her. She had been gagged, there was electrical cord around her neck and her hands were bound behind her back with electrical wire.
Her car was missing. Defendant’s mother had an active order of protection out against Defendant.
Defendant was arrested driving her car and he had sent a fax purportedly from her to make it look like she was still alive. Defendant was not contesting on appeal that he killed her.
In fact, he testified against the advice of his attorney so the judge would have an account of the things that actually happened.
Defendant acknowledged on the stand that he bound his mother up with an extension cord and gaged her with a cloth. He did not want to call the police or attract attention to the fact he was there in violation of the retraining order.
The pathologist testified that the victim’s tongue was forced into the back of her throat blocking her airways. Death occurred within a few minutes of the time she was gagged.
Defendant told the judge that he had no idea a person could die from being tied up. His entire life, he had never heard of anyone dying from being tied up. He testified he did not kill his mother and that all he had done was unlawfully restrain her.
Defendant’s Mental Condition
Defendant was found to be unfit for trial. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and found to be actively psychotic with impaired judgment and delusional ideations that the case was being dismissed.
In 2010, with medication defendant was better and was found fit for trial. However, he declined to participate in a sanity evaluation to determine his mental condition at the time of the murder.
Defendant then refused to participate in evaluations set up by his own attorney and declined to accept a report by one defense expert who did manage to complete a psychological evaluation.
Defendant is only challenging his attorney’s performance. He is saying he was provided ineffective assistance of counsel because his defense attorney did make an insanity defense at trial and lost the chance for GBMI.
Insanity Defense v. GBMI
Under Illinois law, all people are presumed sane and, in order to raise the affirmative defense of insanity, a defendant must present some evidence of insanity. See 720 ILCS 5/3-2(a) (to raise an affirmative defense, a defendant must present some evidence thereon). A person is insane and not criminally responsible for his conduct if he lacks substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of that conduct due to a mental disease or defect. 720 ILCS 5/6-2(a).
It should be noted that Under the statute, a defendant whose insanity defense fails may be found GBMI if he establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that he was mentally ill at the time of the offense. But, counsel has to raise the insanity defense.
For a GBMI finding, on the other hand, no expert testimony is required. The defendant must simply prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he was suffering from a mental illness at the time of the offense, and the trial court noted that there was evidence of a long history of mental illness.
No Insanity Defense
The court explained that the defendant could not be found guilty but mentally ill because there was no evidence presented that defendant was mentally ill at the time of the offense. This evidence was not presented because defendant would not participate in evaluations. See 725 ILCS 5/115-3(c)(1)-(3).
Defendant’s own doctor believed that the killing occurred not because of his psychotic symptoms but because Defendant did not want to go to jail.
There was enough evidence on the record that defendant was mentally ill at the time of the offense. But since insanity defense was not raised GBMI was not available. GBMI is not a defense. See 720 ILCS 5/6-4 (“mental illness is not an affirmative defense, but an alternative plea or finding”).
To obtain a finding of GBMI, a defendant has only two options: a defendant may enter a plea of guilty but mentally ill, either before or during trial (725 ILCS 5/115-2(b)); or a defendant may raise the defense of insanity and, if he fails to establish insanity but proves by a preponderance of the evidence that he was mentally ill at the time of the offense, he may be found guilty but mentally ill (725 ILCS 5/115-3(c)(1)-(3)).
Also, a GBMI sentence would not necessarily reduced his sentence but only made him eligible for treatment in prison. See 730 ILCS 5/5-2-6(a)
Problems With the Statute
Had defense counsel raised an insanity defense in light of the doctor’s opinion that Defendant was sane at the time of the murder would have constituted a violation of the ethical constraints on lawyers. The court could not conclude that defense counsel’s failure to pursue a defense for which he lacked an adequate factual and legal basis constitutes ineffective assistance.
However, the facts of this case highlight a problem with the underlying statute. In cases such as this, a defendant is precluded from obtaining a finding of GBMI even where it would clearly be appropriate because such a finding requires raising an insanity defense in the absence of any supporting evidence.
The appellate court cannot accept and set a standard of conduct that requires lawyers to plead a defense that is not supported by a good faith belief in its factual and legal viability. Correcting this defect in the statute is a matter for the legislature.