Government of Virgin Islands v. Bellott, 72-2057.

Citation495 F.2d 1393
Decision Date27 March 1974
Docket NumberNo. 72-2057.,72-2057.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)

Julio A. Brady, Joel D. Sacks, U. S. Attys., Frederick G. Watts, Asst. U. S. Atty., Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, V. I., for appellee.

Geoffrey W. Barnard, Isherwood, Colianni, Christiansted, St. Croix, V. I., for appellant.

Before SEITZ, Chief Judge, and GIBBONS and WEIS, Circuit Judges.


GIBBONS, Circuit Judge.

Perry Bellott was indicted for first degree murder, 14 V.I.C. § 922(a), was found guilty by a jury, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. The victim was a paramour with whom Bellott quarreled, apparently over her decision to leave him. The defense offered the testimony of two expert witnesses, a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist, to the effect that Bellott was, on the date of the offense, suffering from a mental illness and that the act for which he was indicted was committed in consequence of that mental illness. See United States v. Currens, 290 F.2d 751 (3d Cir. 1961). The government, to meet its burden of proof on the issue of sanity, relied on the observations of persons who saw and dealt with Bellott shortly after the event. With respect to the expert testimony and the government's burden the trial court, in an opinion dealing with post-verdict motions said:

"Apropos the government\'s burden of proof, there is no question but that . . . the defendant came forward with a sufficient quantum of evidence to overcome the presumption of sanity. The defendants\'1 challenge to their convictions must be met and dealt with on the clear understanding that it was incumbent upon the government to prove the mental competence of each defendant beyond a reasonable doubt.
* * * * * *
Defendant Bellott . . . at the threshold argues that new trial relief should be granted him as a matter of course inasmuch as the court should have instructed the jury, as a matter of law, that defendants had sufficiently raised the question of the mental illness to cause the burden to shift to the government." (Memorandum Opinion at 3-4).

Bellott's position on the post-verdict motion is consistent with Defendant's Requested Instruction No. 5. Bellott requested a charge:

"In this case, the issue of the mental capacity of the defendant to commit the criminal act alleged in the complaint — that is, the question of whether or not his conduct resulted from a mental illness — has been sufficiently raised by the defendant, and the burden of proving sanity as an element of this case beyond a reasonable doubt is on the prosecution."

The trial court rejected this charge and the instruction given follows:

"Now, Dr. Hogan has testified that in his professional opinion the man is mentally ill and that in his professional opinion the man was mentally ill in December of 1970 and that in his professional opinion the acts with which this man is charged were done by him in consequence or as a consequence of that mentall illness. This is for you to determine. Without encroaching on your province as finders of fact and without suggesting that you find that to be the fact, I do suggest only that this is a sufficient quantum of evidence which you might regard as causing the burden of proof to shift to the Government. It may or may not be enough to warrant a verdict of not guilty by reason of mental illness. It may or may not be enough even to cause the burden to shift when you assess it, but in commenting on the evidence, as is my right to do and as I have said you may reject, but by way of suggestion to you I think it at least satisfies the requirement that the burden should shift.
* * * * * *
. . . To sum up then that charge, this portion of the charge, if you find that the testimony of the experts called by the defense sufficiently raises the question of the defendant\'s soundness, then the burden shifts to the prosecution and you must then search the evidence to see whether the prosecution has satisfied you beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had the mental capacity to commit the offense charged or any of the lesser included, because it stands to reason if he hadn\'t the mental capacity to commit the offense charged then he hadn\'t the mental capacity to commit any of the lesser included." (Tr. at 253, 255).

The effect of this charge was to place upon the defendant a burden of proof on the issue of his capacity to commit the offense, which he must first overcome before the government has the burden of establishing sanity beyond a reasonable doubt. That charge was improper.

In Davis v. United States, 160 U.S. 469, 16 S.Ct. 353, 40 L.Ed. 499 (1895), the Court considered a charge:

"You are to be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt of the guilt of this defendant before you convict. When you start into a trial of a case, as I have already told you, you start in with the presumption of sanity. Then comes in the responsibility resting upon the defendant to show his condition; to show his irresponsibility under the law. He is required to show that — to your reasonable satisfaction, I say, to your reasonable satisfaction — that it is a state of case where he is excusable for the act." 160 U.S. at 478, 16 S.Ct. at 354.

Reversing, Justice Harlan, for a unanimous court wrote:

"We are unable to assent to the doctrine that in a prosecution for murder, the defence being insanity, and the fact of the killing with a deadly weapon being clearly established, it is the duty of the jury to convict where the evidence is equally balanced on the issue as to the sanity of the accused at the time of the killing. On the contrary, he is entitled to an acquittal of the specific crime charged if upon all the evidence there is reasonable doubt whether he was capable in law of committing crime.
* * * * * *
In a certain sense it may be true that where the defence is insanity, and where the case made by the prosecution discloses nothing whatever in excuse or extenuation of the crime charged, the accused is bound to produce some evidence that will impair or weaken the force of the legal presumption in favor of sanity. But to hold that such presumption must absolutely control the jury until it is overthrown or impaired by evidence sufficient to establish the fact of insanity beyond all reasonable doubt or to the reasonable satisfaction of the jury, is in effect to require him to establish his innocence, by proving that he is not guilty of the crime charged.
* * * * * *
Strictly speaking, the burden of proof, as those words are understood in criminal law, is never upon the accused to establish his innocence or to disprove the facts necessary to establish the crime for which he is indicted. It is on the prosecution from the beginning to the end of the trial and applies to every element necessary to constitute the crime. Giving to the prosecution, where the defense is insanity, the benefit in the way of proof of the presumption in favor of sanity, the vital question from the time a plea of not guilty is entered until the return of the verdict, is whether upon all the evidence, by whatever side adduced, guilt is established beyond reasonable doubt. If the whole evidence, including that supplied by the presumption of sanity, does not exclude beyond reasonable doubt the hypothesis of insanity, of which some proof is adduced, the accused is entitled to an acquittal of the specific offense charged."

160 U.S. at 484, 486-488, 16 S.Ct. at 357. See also Davis v. United States, 165 U.S. 373, 378, 17 S.Ct. 360, 41 L.Ed. 750 (1897); Matheson v. United States...

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18 cases
  • Government of Virgin Islands v. Fredericks
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit
    • 7 Junio 1978
    ...has given some indication that the Currens test may properly be used in the Virgin Islands. See Government of the Virgin Islands v. Bellott, 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......
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    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit
    • 18 Marzo 1977
    ...F.2d 165, 166-67, n. 2 (7th Cir. 1972); United States v. DuShane, 435 F.2d 187, 190 (2d Cir. 1970).23 E. g., Government of Virgin Islands v. Bellott, 495 F.2d 1393 (3d Cir. 1974). See also United States v. Allegrucci, 258 F.2d 70 (3d Cir. 1958) (unexplained possession of recently stolen pro......
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    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit
    • 10 Agosto 1976
    ...DiGilio was indicted. Compare Davis v. United States, 160 U.S. 469, 16 S.Ct. 353, 40 L.Ed. 499 (1895); Government of the Virgin Islands v. Bellott, 495 F.2d 1393 (3d Cir. 1974) (sanity at the time of the offense). Moreover, the government is not, on every subsidiary issue arising during the......
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