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State v. Wilcox

    Brief Fact Summary. Defendant, Wilcox was involved in a burglary where the victim was shot and killed. He was charged with and convicted of aggravated felony murder. Wilcox sought to use psychiatric testimony to support his insanity defense.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A defendant may not offer expert psychiatric testimony, unrelated to the insanity defense, to show the defendant lacked the mens rea to form the specific mental state required for a particular crime or degree of crime.

    Facts. Defendant, was charged with aggravated felony murder, a charge requiring a purpose to kill and a purpose to commit a felony. Wilcox was involved in a burglary where the victim was shot and killed. Prior to trial, a court-appointed psychiatrist found that Wilcox was borderline retarded, schizophrenic, dyslexic, and suffered from organic brain syndrome. At trial, Wilcox was allowed to introduce some medical testimony to support his insanity defense, but the judge disallowed other medical testimony and refused to instruct the jury that his mental condition could negate the mens rea required for the crimes. Defendant was convicted on both counts and sentenced to life in prison.

    Issue. Should a defendant be able to use the concept of diminished capacity in order to allege an incapacity to form the requisite specific intent to commit a crime?

    Held. No. Defendant’s conviction is affirmed.
    The court will not adopt the rule in United States v. Brawner , 471 F.2d 969 (1972), which allowed the defendant to present psychiatric testimony as to his abnormal mental condition (diminished capacity) to show he did not have the specific mental state required to commit the crime.

    Proponents of the diminished capacity defense find it ameliorates faults in a jurisdiction’s insanity test criteria, permits the jury to avoid imposing the death penalty on mentally disabled killers, and permits the jury to make a more accurate individualized judgment on culpability. This court does not find any of these justifications compelling enough to warrant the adoption of a diminished capacity defense.

    According to this view, the practical effect of this defense is to enable mentally ill offenders to receive shorter sentences than they would receive if they were judged to be insane. The test for insanity in Ohio provides that an individual accused of criminal conduct is not responsible for such conduct if, at the time of the conduct, as a result of mental disease or defect, he does not have the capacity either to know the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. Ohio’s test for criminal responsibility adequately safeguards the rights of the insane.

    This alternative defense would override the insanity defense and its corresponding commitment provisions. In addition, the ameliorative purpose served by the diminished capacity defense in capital cases has been accomplished by other means.


    Discussion. Furthermore, the concepts of diminished capacity and voluntary intoxication should not be treated as functional equivalents for the purpose of partial exculpation from criminal responsibility. It does not take great expertise for jurors to establish whether an accused was “so intoxicated as to be mentally unable to lack intent” (i.e., unconscious). Whereas, the ability to decipher specific technical terms associated with the medical concepts of diminished capacity is seemingly much more difficult.


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