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State v. Brom

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of his parents and siblings. The court imposed four life sentences. Defendant appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Expert psychiatric testimony may not be introduced in the guilt phase of a trial to disprove premeditation.

    Facts.

    The parents and siblings of David Brom (Defendant) were found dead in their home with numerous gash wounds. The ax used in the slayings was found in the basement of the house with Defendant’s fingerprints on the handle. Defendant was charged with murder in connection with the deaths of his parents and siblings. Defendant pleaded both not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity, and Defendant’s trial was bifurcated pursuant to Minnesota law. The first phase of the trial was the guilt phase. During this phase, Defendant wished to introduce expert psychiatric testimony to prove that he was incapable of premeditation. The trial court ruled the testimony inadmissible and instructed the jury not to consider evidence of Defendant’s mental illness during the guilt phase. The jury found Defendant guilty of four counts of first-degree murder. During the second phase of the trial, or the insanity phase, the burden was on Defendant to prove his mental illness by a preponderance of the evidence. Defendant presented expert testimony from four psychiatrists, two of whom concluded that Defendant was not legally insane at the time of the murders. All of the experts, however, agreed that Defendant suffered from some form of mental impairment. The jury found Defendant guilty of all four counts of first-degree murder, and the court imposed four life sentences. Defendant appealed, arguing that the court had violated his due process rights in refusing to admit expert psychiatric testimony on the issue of premeditation in the guilt phase of the trial.

    Issue.

    Whether expert psychiatric testimony may be introduced in the guilt phase of a trial to disprove premeditation.

    Held.

    No. Defendant’s convictions are affirmed. Expert psychiatric testimony may not be introduced in the guilt phase of a trial to disprove premeditation.

    Dissent.

    (Wahl, J.): Defendant’s convictions should be reversed and the case remanded for a new trial, during which expert psychiatric testimony should be deemed admissible in the guilt phase. A defendant’s mental impairments are part of the totality of the circumstances from which a fact finder may infer premeditation. Such evidence is akin to evidence of intoxication or infancy, which the court has recognized as admissible on the issue of a defendant’s mens rea.

    Discussion.

    Expert psychiatric testimony is inadmissible in connection with the premeditation element of first-degree murder during the guilt phase of a bifurcated trial. In State v. Bouwman, 328 N.W.2d 703 (Minn. 1982), the court held that expert psychiatric testimony was inadmissible to disprove the elements of both premeditation and intent. While the main focus of the Bouwman case was the element of intent, the same justifications for the exclusion of testimony apply to premeditation. In order to determine intent, a fact finder must consider the physical circumstances of a crime. Expert psychiatric testimony is unrelated to such considerations, because such testimony does not deal with the physical conditions that existed at the time of the commission of a particular crime. Any evidence of insanity or mental illness is only properly related to the second phase of the trial, when a defendant’s mental capacity is being evaluated. It is in this way that premeditation is no different from intent, as both are subjective determinations that must be inferred from the physical evidence presented. Therefore, expert psychiatric testimony may not be considered in determining premeditation, just as such testimony has been excluded from determining intent. Thus, the trial court did not err by precluding expert psychiatric testimony to disprove premeditation during the first phase of Defendant’s trial.


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