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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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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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