Insanity not a guarantee of acquittal
Adam Mau-Goffredo's lawyer is considering an insanity defense
It is not necessary to have a prior diagnosis of mental illness to win an insanity defense, "but it helps," said Walter Rodby, former deputy state public defender.
"Having a previous diagnosis lends credibility to an insanity claim," adds Susan Arnett, deputy public defender.
According to Chapter 704-400 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, a person is not responsible for his conduct if he lacks substantial capacity to either appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions or to act within the law because of mental disease, disorder or defect.
The attorney for Adam Koon Wai Mau-Goffredo, Brook Hart, says he is considering an insanity defense for Mau-Goffredo, who is charged with murdering three people at Tantalus and kidnapping three other people last week. Hart said his client has a history of paranoid schizophrenia.
Arnett and Rodby each won acquittals for their clients in two recent separate murder cases.
Rodby represented Cline Kahue, who was charged with murder in the June 2002 death of former freelance Star-Bulletin sports writer Jack Wyatt. Kahue pushed Wyatt into the Ala Wai Canal, where he struck his head on a rock and drowned. Kahue had a history of mental illness and was supposed to be taking medication.
In December 2004 a state judge found Kahue was not criminally responsible for his conduct because of his mental illness.
Arnett's client, Micah White, had not been diagnosed with mental illness when he stabbed his mother and aunt multiple times and then set them on fire in April 2004. But all five mental health experts hired by the court, defense and prosecution found White suffered from various forms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder for which he had not been treated.
In February a state judge acquitted White on charges of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and criminal property damage. The judge ruled that White's mental illness affected his ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct.
"Even if a person has a mental disease, that doesn't mean they're automatically going to get acquitted," said Franklin Pacarro Jr., deputy city prosecutor.
People who are mentally ill can still distinguish right from wrong, Pacarro said, especially if they are receiving effective treatment and medication.
If Mau-Goffredo intends to rely on the insanity defense in the state's case against him, his attorney will ask a judge to appoint psychiatrists and psychologists to examine his client on his ability to understand the court proceedings.
The court and prosecution can initiate such an examination if they have reason to doubt the defendant's mental fitness.
The mental health experts will also be asked to render their individual opinions on the defendant's capacity to distinguish right from wrong and his ability to confine his actions within the law.
The court-appointed experts' opinions are just that, opinions, and it is up to the jury or judge, in the case of a jury-waived trial, to determine whether a defendant was criminally liable for his actions. During trial the opposing sides are free to question the experts and the credibility of their findings and to put their own experts on the stand.
In 1998 a state judge agreed with her three court-appointed experts that Monte Young had a mental disorder when he bludgeoned Paul Ulbrich with a hammer a year earlier at a fast-food restaurant near the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
But she found that Young's disorder was caused by his use of illegal drugs and alcohol and that the disorder did not impair his ability to distinguish between right and wrong and act within the law.
She disagreed with the experts that Young was insane at the time of the attack and convicted him for second-degree murder.