State v. Hines

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation445 A.2d 314,187 Conn. 199
Decision Date25 May 1982
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Michael HINES.

Page 314

445 A.2d 314
187 Conn. 199
STATE of Connecticut
Michael HINES.
Supreme Court of Connecticut.
Argued Jan. 6, 1982.
Decided May 25, 1982.

Page 315

Suzanne Zitser, Asst. Public Defender, with whom, on the brief, were Jerrold H. Barnett, Public Defender, and Joette Katz, Asst. Public Defender, for appellant (defendant).

Linda K. Lager, Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, were Arnold Markle, State's Atty., and Michael Dearington, Asst. State's Atty., for appellee (State).


[187 Conn. 200] ARTHUR H. HEALEY, Associate Justice.

A jury found the defendant guilty of assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-59(a)(1). 1 In his appeal from the judgment rendered on the verdict the only errors claimed relate to the instructions given to the jury. The defendant contends (1) that the court failed to charge, as requested, that his mental retardation should be considered in deciding whether he acted with the specific intent required by the statute to constitute the offense; and (2) that in illustrating the application of the law of self-defense for the jury the court used an example so similar to the facts of the case that it amounted to the direction of a verdict for the state on that issue.

Many of the facts concerning the offense are not disputed. About midnight of February 20, 1976, the victim was found in a closet of his apartment by two persons who had heard his cries for help. He had been stabbed in the back with a knife which penetrated his body to a depth of more than four inches causing serious injuries to his chest and spinal cord. After extensive surgery and hospitalization he was partially paralyzed at the time of trial. The defendant admitted that he and a friend had visited the victim at his apartment in East Haven and that he had stabbed the victim with a knife which the defendant had previously shown to the victim.

[187 Conn. 201] He testified also that he had acted in self-defense during a quarrel over a debt when the victim picked up the knife which was lying on a table and rushed at him. He claimed that in the ensuing struggle his left hand was cut but that he succeeded in taking the knife from the victim.

Page 316

The version given by the victim at the trial was that no quarrel occurred before the assault that evening. He testified that the defendant, whom he knew but had not seen for eight or nine months, unexpectedly came to his apartment with a friend to use the telephone. After they left, the defendant returned about five minutes later to use the phone again. After completing the second telephone call the defendant requested a piece of wire. Id. The victim went to a closet where he kept his tools and, as he bent down in the closet, the defendant stabbed him with a knife which had been previously shown to him. The victim fell down inside the closet and the defendant slammed the closet door shut. The defendant sprayed a can of mace around the edges of the closet door and then fled from the premises.


The defendant claimed not only that he acted in self-defense but also that his mental deficiency was so great that he could not have formed the specific intent "to cause serious physical injury to another person" as required by General Statutes § 53a-59(a)(1). He presented the testimony of two school psychologists and a psychiatrist in support of his claim of diminished mental capacity. Their testimony was that the defendant suffered from some degree of mental retardation not amounting to an inability to distinguish right from wrong. Psychological examinations given to the defendant [187 Conn. 202] when he was in a special class at high school for the "educatably [sic] mentally retarded" indicated that his reading ability was at the second and third grade level and that he performed other curriculum tests at a range "anywhere from third grade to fifth or sixth grade." Outside school he would be "less alert ... less cognizant of some of the things he does in certain situations ... less aware of making proper judgments ... less capable of making a sound judgment." He was described as having not "a specific learning deficit, but ... a problem in comprehension and reasoning" indicating "some degree of mental retardation."

The defendant has not claimed, either at trial or before us, that this evidence was sufficient to raise the defense of insanity. See General Statutes § 53a-13. He submitted a request to charge that the jury should consider the evidence of his mental retardation "in deciding whether he was capable of forming the specific intent necessary to constitute the crime charged ..." and also, with respect to the issue of self-defense, in determining "whether what he did was reasonable for him under all the circumstances as they appeared to him at the time."

In the instructions on self-defense the trial court gave the defendant substantially what he requested and he has no quarrel with that aspect of the charge. We have no occasion, therefore, to decide whether the requested instruction, which seems to employ a subjective test involving the mental characteristics of the actor rather than the objective standard of the "reasonable man," was appropriate. See General Statutes § 53a-19(a). 2 Wharton, Criminal Law (Torcia Ed.) § 125. See also State [187 Conn. 203] v. Bailey, 79 Conn. 589, 598n, 65 A. 951 (1907). Cf. Model Penal Code §§ 3.04 and 3.09, Comment 2 (Proposed Official Draft 1962).

The state claims that there is no "explicit" authority allowing proof of mental retardation to negate an element of the crime and that to do so would allow a diminished mental capacity defense going beyond the confines of the defense of insanity under General Statutes § 53a-13. While it is uniformly held that subnormal mentality not amounting to an inability to distinguish right from wrong is no defense to a crime, there is a split of authority upon whether evidence of such mental deficiency should be considered in determining whether the defendant acted with the necessary specific intent required for the particular offense. 1 Wharton, Criminal Law and Procedure (Anderson) § 41. See annots., 166 A.L.R. 1194, and 22 A.L.R.3d 1228; see Fisher v. United States, 328 U.S. 463, 473-74 n.12, 66 S.Ct. 1318, 1323 n.12, 90 L.Ed. 1382 (1946).

Page 317

During the period when murder was classified into two degrees, we followed the rule that a person who was so intoxicated at the time he killed someone that "he was incapable of conceiving and carrying into execution a deliberate plan to kill, or was mentally incapable of intent or premeditation, or was beyond the power of self-control at the time" would not be guilty of murder in the first degree, for lack of the necessary mental state. State v. Davis, 158 Conn. 341, 352, 260 A.2d 587 (1969); State v. Dortch, 139 Conn. 317, 323, 93 A.2d 490 (1952); State v. Johnson, 40 Conn. 136, 143 (1873). We have also recognized that mental deficiency or abnormality resulting from factors other than intoxication might properly be considered in deciding [187 Conn. 204] whether a murder had been "wilful, deliberate and premeditated ...." State v. Donahue, 141 Conn. 656, 663, 109 A.2d 364, cert. denied and appeal dismissed, 349 U.S. 926, 99 L.Ed. 1257, 75 S.Ct. 775 (1954); Andersen v. State, 43 Conn. 514, 524 (1876). "In behalf of the defense, insanity, intoxication, or any other fact which tends to prove that the prisoner was incapable of deliberation, was competent evidence for the jury to weigh." State v. Johnson, supra, 143. The state urges that this principle be confined to murder cases, but we see no reason not to apply it in any case where a specific intent is an essential element of the crime involved, including the assault charged in this case. See People v. Wetmore, 22 Cal.3d 318, 149 Cal.Rptr. 265, 583 P.2d 1308 (1978); People v. Gorshen, 51 Cal.2d 716, 336 P.2d 492 (1959); People v. Anderson, 63 Cal.2d 351, 46 Cal.Rptr. 763, 406 P.2d 43 (1965); Schwickrath v. People, 159 Colo. 390, 411 P.2d 961 (1966); State v. Barney, 244 N.W.2d 316 (Iowa 1976); People v. Colavecchio, 11 App.Div.2d 161, 202 N.Y.S.2d 119 (1960). Such evidence is admitted not for the purpose of exempting a defendant from criminal responsibility, but as bearing upon the question of whether he possessed, at the time he committed the act, the necessary specific intent, the proof of which was required to obtain a conviction.

The state also argues that "[e]ven had the defendant offered proof of his mental condition to negate the intent element, rather than for the avowed purpose of proving the subjective reasonableness of his self-defense claim, it is questionable whether he was entitled to a jury instruction to that effect." In its argument maintaining that there is no explicit authority allowing proof of mental retardation to negate an element of the [187 Conn. 205] crime, the state points out that Practice Book § 759 which "suggests" that a defendant may "introduce expert testimony relating to a mental disease or defect, or another condition bearing upon the issue of whether he had the mental state required in the offense charged ..." also sets forth notification requirements which were not complied with by the defendant. There was, however, no objection to this evidence at trial. Practice Book § 761 provides as the only sanction for noncompliance with § 759 that the court "may exclude the testimony of any expert witness offered by the defendant on the issue of his mental state." Thus, the failure to comply with the notice requirement would hardly justify a refusal to give the requested instruction.

The defendant excepted to the trial court's failure to give one of his requested charges concerning the use, by the jury, of the evidence concerning the defendant's mental retardation. 2 Counsel indicated

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that this request pointed out the applicability of that evidence to the case in...

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