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COA rules man is not guilty by reason of insanity

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Examining the issue of whether a defendant’s mental disease brought on by years of drinking could support an insanity defense, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded the man’s psychosis was a mental defect under Indiana Code and he should have been found not guilty by reason of insanity.

In John R. Berry, IV v. State of Indiana, No. 49A04-1008-CR-536, John Berry IV appealed his conviction of Class A felony attempted murder following a bench trial. The charge stemmed from his attack on Tony Monday, who was at a house Berry and his father went to in order to help repair it. At the house, Berry picked up a hammer and began attacking Monday, telling Monday he was going to kill him. After the attack, Berry’s father noticed that Berry was staring off into space and seemed out of it.

Berry was a longtime alcoholic and was diagnosed in 1999 with bipolar disorder. He also sometimes suffers from seizures and hallucinations and becomes psychotic when withdrawing from alcohol.

The trial court found Berry was sane at the time of the attack, and his conduct and comments surrounding the attack showed he knew of the wrongful nature of his actions. The judge also concluded the psychotic symptoms he displayed were brought on by his voluntary abuse of alcohol rather than his bipolar disorder or other mental disease or defect. Berry drank heavily on the Saturday before the attack, which happened on a Monday.

In order to be found not responsible by reason of insanity at the time of the crime, Berry had to prove that he suffers from a mental disease or defect and the disease or defect rendered him unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct at the time of the offense. There’s no issue that Berry was suffering a mental disease or defect at the time of the attack, but questions arose as to whether he was intoxicated during the attack or whether the alcohol use caused his psychotic symptoms.  Judge Terry Crone pointed out that I.C. 35-41-3-6 on NRI requires only that a defendant suffer a mental disease or defect and doesn’t set forth any constraints regarding the source or cause of such disease or defect.

There was no evidence that Berry appeared or acted in an intoxicated manner at the time of the assault, so Indiana Code 35-41-2-5 is inapplicable, wrote Judge Crone. The state cited that statute to say that since Berry had voluntarily drank a few days earlier, intoxication can’t excuse his responsibility for the attack.

The COA then delved into Indiana caselaw dating back to 1878 that has held a defendant who manifests a mental disease or defect caused by prolonged and chronic alcohol abuse that renders him unable to distinguish right from wrong isn’t responsible for a crime committed while in that condition, what is now called “settled” insanity. There hasn’t been any caselaw exactly on point to this case, but the judges decided that Berry’s case falls squarely within the doctrine of settled insanity.

They also found that Berry wasn’t able to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct, the other requirement to be found NRI. His conduct showed he knew what he was doing when he attacked Monday, but the evidence doesn’t support a reasonable inference of sanity.

The appellate court remanded with instructions to enter a finding of NRI and for further proceedings required by statute, such as civil commitment proceedings.

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