Gov't of the Virgin Islands v. Fredericks, 77-1963

Decision Date24 April 1978
Docket NumberNo. 77-1963,77-1963
Citation15 V.I. 558
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

Appeal of conviction for voluntary manslaughter, challenging the adequacy of jury instructions relating to insanity defense. The Court of Appeals, Hunter, Circuit Judge, affirmed, holding that (1) the jury charge did not contain any fundamental error that appellate court could raise sua sponte on appeal; (2) the court was not required to give a "legal definition" of mental disease or defect; and (3) the trial judge, who informed the jurors on


ALBERT A. SHEEN, ESQ. (HODGE & SHEEN), Christiansted, St. Croix, V.I., for appellant

MARK L. MILLIGAN, ESQ., Assistant U.S. Attorney (Department of Justice), Christiansted, St. Croix, V.I., for appellee

Before ADAMS, ROSENN and HUNTER, Circuit Judges


HUNTER, Circuit Judge

Defendant Ivar Fredericks appeals from his conviction of voluntary manslaughter, 14 V.I.C. § 924(1), in the District Court of the Virgin Islands. He has been sentenced to imprisonment for a term of six years. This appeal challenges the adequacy of the jury instructions relating to his insanity defense. We affirm.


In the early hours of the morning of March 7, 1977, Fredericks drove to a dilapidated house, owned by his brother, in Christiansted, St. Croix. Defendant had been drinking before he arrived at the building. The house was then temporarily occupied by some of his brother's acquaintances.

Fredericks broke into the house, and the occupants, including Eric Baird, a/k/a "Shorty," attempted to flee. Defendant caught up with Mr. Baird, followed him outside and across the street, and repeatedly beat him with a pipe wrench. The victim died before reaching the hospital.

Defendant then drove from the house to a lot approximately one quarter of a mile from his residence and fell asleep in his car. The car was later located by investigators and searched pursuant to a warrant. Inside were found the pipe wrench used in the beating and a T-shirt stained with decedent's blood.

Fredericks was arrested on March 7, 1977 and charged with first degree murder, 14 V.I.C. § 922(a) (1), in an information filed on March 9. Subsequently Judge Warren H. Young entered an order requiring examination of defendant by Dr. Olaf Hendricks, a psychiatrist.

On April 20, 1977, defendant filed notice of his intent to rely on the defense of insanity, based on the initial report of Dr. Hendricks. Judge Young, by order dated May 4, 1977 and amended on May 6 and 13, committed defendant to the Knud-Hansen Memorial Hospital on St. Thomas for psychiatric observation, examination and treatment.

Fredericks' jury trial began on June 6, 1977. The principal defense relied on by defendant was insanity, with an interrelated claim of intoxication. Three expert witnesses were called to support the defense: Dr. Hendricks, who had first examined defendant after his arrest, Dr. Leighman Lu, a psychiatrist at Knud-Hansen Memorial Hospital, and Dr. Kurt Konietzko, a clinical psychologist at the hospital.

Dr. Hendricks, after recounting Fredericks' case history, testified that he had initially diagnosed defendant as an alcoholic paranoid but had later reached the opinion that he was a latent schizophrenic. Dr. Lu disagreed withboth of these diagnoses and stated his finding that Fredericks had a "paranoid personality." Dr. Konietzko analyzed defendant's condition as a paranoid personality with an underlying latent schizophrenia. Dr. Hendricks gave his opinion that the beating death of Mr. Baird was a result of Fredericks' mental illness, but Dr. Lu testified that he found no evidence of a causal relationship.

On June 9, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty on the charge of first degree murder, but guilty on the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter. On June 29, Fredericks was sentenced to imprisonment for a term of six years with directions that he be allowed to continue psychiatric treatment.

Defendant filed a timely notice of appeal, raising two issues: whether the trial court erred in denying his request that the jury be given a definition of "mental disease or defect"; and whether the court wrongly refused to instruct the jury on the consequences of a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. Both questions were properly preserved for appeal by timely objections to the jury charge.


Under Virgin Islands law, "persons who are mentally ill and who committed the act charged against them in consequence of such mental illness" are not considered capable of committing a crime. 14 V.I.C § 14(4). After charging the jury by repeating the statutory definition for insanity, the trial judge restated the standard which the jury should apply in evaluating an insanity defense by reference to the test formulated by then Chief Judge Biggs in United States v. Currens, 290 F.2d 751, 774 (3d Cir. 1961). The jury was charged:

[T]he Defendant shall be entitled to a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, if, at the time of the alleged criminal conduct, the Defendant, as a result of mental illness or mental defect,lacked substantial capacity to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.1

[1] The dissent argues that the Virgin Islands statute on insanity was constructed around the Durham rule enunciated in Durham v. United States, 214 F.2d 862 (D.C. Cir. 1954). The statute was apparently influenced by the "product test" of Durham which was rejected in the Currens opinion, see 290 F.2d at 771-774. While of course this court cannot supplant the Virgin Islands statute with its own notions of the insanity defense, we do not read the Currens test as being fundamentally at odds with thestatute.2 This court has given some indication that the Currens test may properly be used in the Virgin Islands. See Government of the Virgin Islands, v. Bellott, 11 V.I. 181, 495 F.2d 1393, 1397-98 & n.3 (3d Cir. 1974). Both parties to this appeal seem to have accepted the trial judge's use of Currens language; no objection was raised at trial, and neither party has briefed or argued this issue on appeal. In light of these circumstances, we do not believe that the charge given to the Fredericks jury contained a fundamental error which this court should raise sua sponte. See F.R. Crim. P. 30; Government of the Virgin Islands v. Navarro, 513 F.2d 11, 16 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 422 U.S. 1045 (1975). We shall therefore consider the contentions of the appellant in the context of the charge actually given to the jury.

The defendant's first contention on appeal is that the rule of Currens which was applied by the trial judge should have been augmented by the following language: Mental disease (or defect) includes any abnormal condition of the mind, regardless of its medical label, which substantially affects mental or emotional processes and substantially impairs behavior controls. The term "behavior controls" refers to the processes and capacity of a person to regulate and control his conduct and his actions.

In considering whether the defendant had a mental disease (or defect) at the time of the unlawful act with which he is charged, you may consider testimony in this case concerning thedevelopment, adaptation and functioning of these mental and emotional processes and behavior controls.

The judge ruled that he would not give the charge. In the course of instructing the jury, however, the judge did take cognizance of the definition of mental disease or defect by commenting:

I don't think I need to go into all the ramifications on what is or what is not a mental illness. You have had that given to you by the experts and even by the lawyers. As I say, it is your decision.

After the charge had been given, defendant objected to the omission of his requested instruction. In overruling the objection, the judge commented, "That is argument and not instructions."

Defendant argues that the instruction he requested was necessary to avoid jury confusion over the correlation of the medical labels used by expert witnesses to describe his mental condition and the legal definition of "insanity." At trial, much of the examination and cross-examination of the medical experts dealt with the appropriate label to attach to defendant's condition.3 Currens emphasized that the medical label used by experts is not determinative on the issue of insanity; the jury has an independent role in determining criminal responsibility based on its weighing of all evidence, expert and lay, of the defendant's mental condition before and after the acts charged. 290 F.2d at 772-75. Defendant contends that, without the definition he proposed, the jury had no basis except the medical labels on which to make a determination of whether defendant suffered from a mental disease or defect.

Much of the substance of the proposed instruction was already covered in the judge's charge to the jury underCurrens. The requested instruction contained the concept of a mental disease or defect as an abnormal condition of the mind which substantially impairs "behavior controls." It also denned "behavior controls" as the capacity of a person to regulate and control his conduct or actions. Both of these aspects of the requested charge are contained in the Currens instructions given during Fredericks' trial that defendant should be acquitted if

at the time of the alleged conduct, the Defendant, as a result of mental disease or defect, lacked substantial capacity to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.

The part of the requested charge that directed the jury not to be bound by the medical labels used by the experts and to consider all evidence bearing on "the development, adaptation, and functioning of . . . mental and emotional processes and behavior controls" is covered by the following part of the jury charge:

In considering the issue of insanity, you may consider all of the...

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