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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. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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