Individuals are responsible for their actions and must be held accountable for them.
Certain individuals may lack capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of their conduct.
Factors beyond individuals’ control may lead them to commit criminal acts. In such instances the law exempts individuals from responsibility.
There are situations in which acts that would otherwise be crimes may be justified (e.g., homicide in self-defense).
Types of Defenses Basis of Defense Examples Asserting lack of capacity Insanity, intoxication Excuse or justification Duress, necessity, mistake Use of force Self-defense, defense of others, defense of home Constitutional/statutory authority Double jeopardy, statute of limitations Improper governmental conduct Entrapment, selective prosecution
The common law regarded a child under age seven as incapable of forming criminal intent.
This presumption of incapacity was rebuttable regarding a child between seven and fourteen years old, with the prosecution having the burden to demonstrate that a child younger than fourteen was capable of comprehending the wrongdoing involved in an offense.
Children over age fourteen were treated as adults.
The Juvenile Justice System
Beginning around the turn of the 20 th century, states developed juvenile justice systems.
These courts traditionally handled juvenile offenders separately from adults in nonadversarial proceedings.
The theory was that the state acted as parens patriae, taking a clinical and rehabilitative, rather than an adversarial or punitive, approach to youthful offenders.
The Juvenile Justice System (cont.)
Although juvenile courts remain as part of the judicial scene, statutes commonly provide that for certain offenses a juvenile may be tried as an adult.
Juvenile courts must afford juveniles due process of law.
In re Gault (1967)
Involuntary intoxication relieves the criminality of an act committed under its influence if, as a result of intoxication, the defendant no longer knows right from wrong.
In most jurisdictions, voluntary intoxication may be considered in determining whether a defendant can formulate the specific intent the prosecution must establish in such crimes as larceny, burglary, and premeditated murder.
Most courts reject the defense of voluntary intoxication for general-intent crimes.
The Insanity Defense
The insanity defense has roots in Anglo-American law because common-law crimes included mens rea, the mental element of the crime.
The Key Case : Daniel M’Naghten was acquitted of murder on the basis of an insanity plea.
M’Naghten’s Case, 8 Eng. Rep. 718 (1843).
The theory is that one who is insane is incapable of forming mens rea .
The M’Naghten Rule
“ It must be clearly proved that, at the time of committing the act, the party accused as labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong.”
By the mid-1800s, the M’Naghten Rule had become the test for insanity used in both federal and state courts in the United States.
The Durham Test
In Durham v. U.S. (1954) the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit held that an accused is not criminally responsible if that person’s unlawful act was “the product of mental disease or defect.”
Many psychiatrists applauded the Durham test, but it gained little judicial support and was eventually discarded.
The ALI Standard
In 1962, the American Law Institute (ALI), proposed a new standard sometimes referred to as the substantial capacity test.
It provides that “a person is not responsible for criminal conduct if at the time of such conduct, as a result of mental disease or defect, a person lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.”
Most federal courts adopted the ALI Standard.
The John Hinckley Case
Few cases have caused as great a concern over the functioning of the criminal justice system in the United States as the verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity” in the federal court trial of John Hinckley for the 1981 shooting of then President Ronald Reagan.
The Hinckley verdict motivated Congress and several state legislatures to review the status of insanity defenses.
Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984
Dissatisfied with the ALI test, which was applied in the Hinckley trial, Congress decided to eliminate the volitional prong in the federal test for insanity and to revert substantially to the M’Naghten Rule.
Insanity Defense Reform Act (cont.)
“ It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution under any federal statute that, at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the defendant, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts. Mental disease or defect does not otherwise constitute a defense.”
18 U.S.C.A. § 17(a).
Insanity Defense Reform Act (cont.)
The act stipulates that “[t]he defendant has the burden of proving the defense of insanity by clear and convincing evidence.”
18 U.S.C.A. § 17(b).
Federal appellate court decisions in 1986 affirmed the constitutionality of this burden shifting under the 1984 federal act.
United States v. Freeman (11th Cir.); United States v. Amos (8th Cir.)
Shifting the Burden of Proof
Although Congress has placed the burden on defendants who plead insanity in federal courts to prove their defense, state courts are divided on the issue.
Tennessee is among the states that now place the burden on the defendant to establish the affirmative defense of insanity by clear and convincing evidence.
Joy Ann Robey was charged with involuntary manslaughter and child abuse in connection with the death of her ten-month-old daughter, Christina.
At trial, Robey admitted to beating the child severely and repeatedly over a two-month period but pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
The trial court found that the defendant was temporarily insane each time she beat the child but that she returned to sanity thereafter.
Accordingly, the defendant could not be held criminally liable for the beatings but was responsible for her failure to seek medical care for her child.
Robey was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and child abuse and sentenced to three concurrent ten-year terms in prison.
Her conviction was upheld on appeal over her contention that the trial court erred in holding her criminally responsible after acknowledging that she was insane at the time of the beatings.
Robey v. State , 456 A.2d 953 (Md. App. 1983).
Defenses Based on Excuse or Justification
Mistake of law
Mistake of fact
Duress is the use of illegal confinement or threats of harm to coerce someone to do something he or she would not do otherwise.
Duress can be a defense to criminal charges if the coercion exerted involved the use of threats of harm that
were present, imminent and pending;
produced well-grounded apprehensions of death or serious bodily harm if the act was not done.
No degree of duress can excuse the intentional killing of an innocent human being.
Early common-law cases recognized that “a man may break the words of the law … through necessity.”
Contemporary judicial authorities hold that if there is a reasonable legal alternative to violating the law, the defense of necessity fails.
In most instances a victim may not excuse a criminal act.
Where lack of consent is an element of the crime (e.g., larceny), consent is a defense.
This applies to rape, but only where competent adults freely consent before having sexual relations.
Mistake of Law
One of the oft-quoted maxims of the law is that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
Although this is the generally accepted view, in some instances a defendant’s honest but mistaken view of the law may be accepted as a defense.
Mistake of Fact
In Indiana mistake of fact is an affirmative defense by statute:
“ It is a defense that the person who engaged in the prohibited conduct was reasonably mistaken about a matter of fact if the mistake negates the culpability required for commission of the offense.”
West’s Ind. Code Ann. § 35-41-3-7.
Defenses Justifying Use of Force
Battered woman syndrome
Battered child syndrome
Defense of others
Defense of habitation
Defense of property
Defendants charged with assaultive or homicidal offenses claim to have acted in self-defense.
In determining the lawfulness of force used in self-defense, courts first look to see if the force used by the aggressor was unlawful.
If so, the defender must show there was a necessity to use force for self-protection and that the degree of force used by the defender was reasonable considering the parties and circumstances.
Battered Woman Syndrome
A pattern of psychological and behavioral symptoms of a woman living with a male in a battering relationship.
Some jurisdictions now permit a female in that situation who is charged with assaulting or killing a man to show that even though she did not face immediate harm, her plea of self-defense should be recognized because her actions were her response to constant battering.
Battered Child Syndrome
Where there is evidence that a child has been abused continually over an extended period, there is a movement now to assert the battered child syndrome in defense of a child accused of assaulting or killing a parent.
Defense of Others
At common law, one had the right to use reasonable force to prevent commission of a felony or to protect members of the household.
The trend in American jurisdictions is to allow a person “to stand in the shoes of the victim” and to use such reasonable force as is necessary to defend anyone, irrespective of relationship, from harm.
Defense of Habitation
English common law permitted the use of deadly force against an intruder into one’s home.
Coke’s Commentaries : “A man’s home is his castle—for where shall a man be safe if it be not in his house?”
Even though a householder may be justified in using deadly force, he or she would not be justified in taking a life to repel a mere trespass.
Defense of Property
The common law allowed a person to use reasonable, but not deadly, force to protect property.
Today, the use of force to protect a person’s property is often defined by statute.
“ A person is justified in the use of reasonable force to prevent or terminate criminal interference with his or her possession or other right to property.”
Iowa Code Ann. § 704.4.
The quoted statutory language generally represents contemporary decisional law even in the absence of a statute.
Defenses Based on Constitutional or Statutory Authority
Statute of Limitations
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution embodies the principle by stating:
“ [N]or shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.”
The Double Jeopardy Clause forbids a second prosecution for the same offense after a defendant has been acquitted or even after a conviction.
Double Jeopardy (cont.)
If a defendant appeals from a conviction and prevails, it is not double jeopardy for the prosecution to retry the defendant, unless the appellate court rules that there was insufficient evidence to sustain the defendant’s conviction.
Nor is it double jeopardy to retry a defendant if the trial court has declared a mistrial on the motion of the defense.
If the government moves for a mistrial, the defendant objects, and the court grants the mistrial, the prosecution must establish a manifest necessity for the mistrial for a retrial to be permitted.
Statute of Limitations
A legislative enactment that places a time limit on the prosecution of a crime.
Common law placed no time limits on prosecution.
Statutes of limitations seldom place time limits on prosecutions for murder and other very serious offenses.
Federal statutes of limitations provide a five-year limitation on prosecution of noncapital crimes.
Most states provide five to seven year limitations on the prosecution of felonies other than murder, one to two years on major misdemeanors, and a year or less on minor misdemeanors.
Tennessee Statute of Limitations
From the time a felony is committed, prosecution must commence within:
fifteen years for a Class A felony;
eight years for a Class B felony;
four years for a Class C or Class D felony;
and two years for a Class E felony.
T.C.A. § 40-2-101.
Prosecution for a misdemeanor must commence within twelve months after the offense has been committed.
T.C.A. § 40-2-102.
A witness compelled to give incriminating testimony receives use immunity (i.e., the testimony given cannot be used against the witness).
In some states a witness who testifies under a grant of immunity is given transactional immunity , which protects a witness from prosecution for any activity mentioned in the witness’s testimony.
At the state level such authority is generally vested in the chief prosecuting officer (i.e., the district or state attorney).
Under international law, a person who has diplomatic status and serves as a part of a diplomatic mission, as well as members of the diplomat’s staff and household, is immune from arrest and prosecution.