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Instruction on Abnormal Mental Conditions in Miami

Can giving an instruction on abnormal mental conditions be damaging to a Miami defendant’s defense? In a recent case, a Florida court considered standard instruction 3.6(p), which deals with abnormal mental conditions, and found that providing the instruction could be tantamount to a suggestion of mental illness when there was no other competent evidence of mental illness introduced.

The instruction states that mental illness, abnormal mental condition, and diminished mental capacity aren’t defenses to any crimes and evidence can’t be taken into consideration to show a defendant didn’t have the specific intent or state of mind needed to show he committed a particular crime charged. These complex situations and more can be navigated by a dedicated Miami criminal defense attorney.

The defendant was convicted of seven felonies based on one crime spree. He was sentenced to life, among other things. The defendant had a history of mental illness. However, at trial, there was no expert testimony presented about the defendant’s mental condition. When he was 16, the defendant was placed in a juvenile detention facility and while in isolation, he started to hear voices. He received a schizophrenia diagnosis.

In 2014, he was subject to the Baker Act. Two months after he was released, the crime spree occurred.

The defendant’s attorney raised his mental condition as a point of controversy and asked for an examination to decide competency. When she met with him, she couldn’t manage even a semblance of a rational conversation with him. A doctor examined him and determined he was competent to go forward. Another court-appointed attorney raised his mental condition. That attorney filed a notice he would rely on an insanity defense.

At trial, the insanity defense was taken back, but the defendant testified prior to the swearing of the jury that he was on medication for multiple mental illnesses and that he had a history of hearing voices that he believed were telling him what was in the heads of others. He also said he couldn’t focus on jurors due to those voices.

The lower court declared a mistrial. Another doctor examined him and found him competent to stand trial. The evidence presented at trial had to do with attempted robbery of a landlord and burglary of a dwelling with assault and battery.

Allegedly, a carpet installer had been sweeping a bedroom in a landlord’s rental home for purposes of carpet installation while a landlord did minor repairs when the installer was pushed against the wall. The landlord saw the thief emerge from the bedroom and the thief patted him down and fled on a bike. Later the landlord identified the defendant as the thief in a photo array. He also allegedly punched someone a few blocks away, who later identified him at a show-up as the person who robbed him.

The defendant was located in hiding in the back of an SUV later. He resisted arrest by attacking the officer. A recorded statement was taken in which the defendant said he had thrown a temper tantrum. The defendant’s defenses were misidentification and that the officer didn’t have a basis to stop him. He was found guilty and sentenced.

The defendant argued that the abnormal mental condition instruction wasn’t supported by evidence and misled the jury. He argued that without an evidentiary basis, the instruction would play upon the fear and prejudice associated with mental illness. The appellate court found it was error to use the instruction and that use of it interfered with the jury’s ability to determine specific intent. It explained that there are narrow exceptions to the bar about mental condition testimony. But a defendant’s reference to “psyching out” wasn’t enough evidence of an abnormal mental condition to form a basis to give the instruction. Giving the instruction was the same as suggesting the defendant suffered from mental illness. For these and other reasons, the appellate court reversed and remanded.

Whether you’re accused of a theft crime or a violent crime in Miami, it’s crucial to retain experienced criminal defense counsel. Call The Hoffman Law Firm at (305) 928-1669, or contact us via our online form.