July 6, 2010

Mitchell to plead insane

No surprise, but Brian David Mitchell has filed official notice that he plans to go for an insanity defense. Mitchell, as you all know, is awaiting trial in the 2002 kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart in Salt Lake City. The defense notice states an intent to rely upon unspecified "expert testimony as to mental disease or defect." I'm not holding my breath that the trial will start as scheduled on November 1, but when and if it does it is bound to be quite interesting.

I highly recommend that all forensic practitioners read U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball's lengthy ruling on Mitchell's competency to stand trial, issued four months ago. At 149 pages, it's the most comprehensive competency decision I have seen. In describing Mitchell as a cunning malingerer, the decision has plenty of implications for the insanity trial as well.

Utah abolished the insanity defense some years back. The state now uses the restrictive standard of Guilty But Mentally Ill, under which evidence of mental disorder can be introduced only for the restricted purpose of disproving mens rea, or the mental state that must be present in order to be convicted of certain special-intent offenses. (A handy chart showing the insanity standards of each U.S. state is HERE.) However, since the federal government is prosecuting Mitchell, he should still be able to rely upon the defense.

POSTSCRIPT: Subsequent news coverage on the government's response to the insanity filing is HERE.

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