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FactsEdit

Cooper, a man described as a "little slow", was an outpatient at a psychiatric hospital. At a dance at a local church organized for patients of the hospital he took a woman aside, kissed her, and then strangled her to death because, as he later testified, he was afraid that she would tell on him. At trial the defence of insanity (now mental disorder) was not raised (at the time Cooper would have been ordered into an institution for life if this defence was accepted), but Cooper rather relied on the negation of mens rea in the offence. He also had expert testimony from a forensic psychiatrist saying that he would not have been able to understand the consequences of his actions or form the mens rea. Despite this, the trial judge charged the jury with s.16, although the charge was very poor. Cooper was convicted at trial and his appeal was rejected by the Court of Appeal.

IssueEdit

  1. What is the proper interpretation of s.16 of the Criminal Code?
  2. When should a judge charge a jury about the mental disorder defence?
  3. Is expert evidence determinative?

DecisionEdit

Appeal allowed, new trial ordered.

ReasonsEdit

Dickson, writing for the majority, explains the elements of the mental disorder exemption:

  1. the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime and would be convicted;
  2. the accused must show that their condition falls under a "disease of the mind";
  3. the condition must have caused the accused to not have the capacity to appreciate either the "nature and quality" of the act or to know that it is wrong;
  4. the legal consequence is not an acquittal, but a special verdict of "no criminal responsibility" under s.672.34.

In the case at bar there was evidence that Cooper had a disease of the mind - both his father and the expert witness' testimonies made this seem evident. He had been hospitalized and associated with the psychiatric institute for a long time. The doctor, however, did not think that Cooper was suffering from psychosis at the time of the crime, but merely that he could not form the necessary mens rea.

Dickson finds that expert testimony is not determinative; whether or not someone suffers from a "disease of the mind" is a legal question and can only be determined by the finder of fact - the judge or jury. Although the expert testimony is helpful in making the decision, it is not the only factor. If there is an air of reality that the accused suffered from a disease of the mind then it should go to the jury, even if neither party wants it to. "Diseases of the mind" must impair the human mind in its functioning excluding self-induced states caused by alcohol or drugs as well as transitory mental states such as hysteria or concussion (i.e.) it must be continuing.

The test is that that he must have had the mental capacity to foresee the consequences of his violent conduct. He knew that what he was doing was wrong, but the question is whether he had the mental capacity to measure and foresee the consequences of the violent conduct. He knew that there was a problem, but he might not have been able to appreciate the consequences of it. As the charge to the jury on this point was not sufficiently clear to allow them to act properly as finders of fact, a new trial is required.

RatioEdit

  • The elements of the mental disorder exemption:
    • the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime and would be convicted;
    • the accused must show that their condition falls under a "disease of the mind";
    • the condition must have caused the accused to not have the capacity to appreciate either the "nature and quality" of the act or to know that it is wrong;
    • the legal consequence is not an acquittal, but a special verdict of "no criminal responsibility" under s.672.34.
  • Expert testimony that someone has or does not have a "disease of the mind" is not determinative; it is a question that is to be answered by the finder of fact.
  • "Diseases of the mind" must impair the human mind in its functioning; this excludes cases of self-induced incapacity such as through drugs or alcohol, and does not include transitory states such as hysteria.

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