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Hendershott v. People

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Hendershott (Defendant) was tried for assault. He was not allowed to present evidence of mental disease or defect and appealed his conviction on those grounds.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Evidence of mental disease or defect is admissible to negate mens rea even for general intent offenses.

    Facts.

    Defendant struck, kicked, and choked his girlfriend after she told him to move out of her home. His girlfriend escaped and called the police who arrested Defendant and charged him with third degree assault. The offense required Defendant to have knowingly or recklessly caused injury to the victim. The prosecution learned that Defendant intended to present evidence of his mental defect in order to demonstrate his inability to have knowingly and recklessly caused his girlfriend injury. The prosecution sought to exclude such evidence on the basis that evidence of mental impairment was only permitted for specific intent offenses, and the trial court agreed. Defendant was convicted and appealed.  

    Issue.

    Is evidence of mental disease or defect admissible to negate mens rea when the offense charged is not a specific intent offense?

    Held.

    (Quinn, J.) Yes. Evidence of mental disease or defect is admissible to negate mens rea even for general intent offenses. Whenever a state of mind is an element of the offense, opinion evidence of mental disease or defect is relevant and admissible. The court would violate a defendant’s due process rights if the prosecution was required to prove the defendant’s mental state beyond a reasonable doubt as part of the offense, but the defendant was not permitted to contest this proof with his own evidence. An accused is entitled to a presumption of innocence as to each element of an offense and cannot be convicted unless the government proves each element, including the required mens rea, beyond a reasonable doubt. The government’s evidence on mens rea cannot be uncontestable or the presumption of innocence is negated. A reasonable doubt may be found when the prosecution’s evidence is lacking, or when defense evidence casts doubt on the prosecution’s case. Reversed and remanded.

    Discussion.

    Ten states, including Colorado, allow evidence of mental impairment to be admitted in both specific intent and general intent offenses. Most states allow such evidence only in specific intent prosecutions. A handful of states do not allow the defense to present evidence negating mens rea in any case.


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