EHB 2456



BYRepresentatives Locke, Crane, Padden, H. Myers, Brough, Winsley, Rector, Dellwo, Kremen, O'Brien and P. King 



Pertaining to mental condition defenses.



House Committe on Judiciary



Senate Committee on Law & Justice


      Senate Hearing Date(s):February 19, 1990


      Senate Staff:Jon Carlson (786-7459)



                            AS OF FEBRUARY 15, 1990




The criminal mental defenses of insanity and diminished capacity are related but different defenses under our criminal law system.  Despite differences in the meaning and application of the two defenses, both defenses frequently involve expert psychological or psychiatric testimony that requires careful preparation well in advance of trial.


Statutory provisions govern the procedural and substantive requirements of asserting an insanity defense.  The defense must assert an insanity defense when the defendant is arraigned on criminal charges unless good cause exists for asserting the defense later.  Frequently, arraignment is an unrealistic date to assert the defense because people usually do not yet have attorneys representing them or the attorney has had insufficient time to review the case to determine whether asserting an insanity defense is appropriate.


The defense can ask the judge for acquittal in a hearing outside the presence of a jury even if the prosecutor disagrees and wants to go to trial.  If the defendant loses at the hearing, the defendant then can go to trial on the issue in front of a jury.


In contrast to the insanity defense, the diminished capacity defense is not defined in statute but has developed in case law.  Self induced intoxication is not a defense to a criminal charge but it may impact the jury's determination whether the offender possessed a mental state necessary to commit a crime so intoxication is frequently considered a "diminished capacity" defense.  Proof of diminished capacity due to intoxication may or may not require expert testimony.  Currently, no statutory procedural requirements exist that require the defense to notify the state within a reasonable time that the defense intends to rely upon evidence of diminished capacity at trial.  Recent case law developments have recognized that procedural requirements for diminished capacity are appropriate.




The mental defense of "diminished capacity" is statutorily defined as the existence of a mental disorder that negates a mental state required for the commission of a crime.  Diminished capacity does not include self-induced intoxication that does not otherwise amount to a mental disorder.  The defense must give written notice at the time the trial is set that the defense intends to produce evidence of insanity or diminished capacity.  The court can allow the defense to provide notice after the trial setting if the court finds that good cause exists to give notice at a latter time.


The defendant cannot ask the judge for acquittal due to insanity unless the prosecutor agrees that the defendant is not guilty by reason of insanity.  If both the prosecution and defense ask for an acquittal due to insanity, the court may grant the request if it finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the accused is not guilty by reason of insanity.


Appropriation:    none


Revenue:    none


Fiscal Note:      requested January 15, 1990