State v. Hood

Citation187 A.2d 499,123 Vt. 273
Decision Date02 January 1963
Docket NumberNo. 854,854
Parties, 11 A.L.R.3d 732 STATE of Vermont v. James Henry HOOD.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont

Charles E. Gibson, Jr., Deputy Atty. Gen., Montpelier, for plaintiff.

Joseph M. O'Neill, Rutland, for defendant.


HULBURD, Chief Justice.

The respondent was tried for first degree murder on his pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. The jury returned a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree, and, pursuant to 13 V.S.A., § 2303, determined that the punishment should be imprisonment for life in the state prison.

In his appeal to this Court, the respondent claims error solely with respect to the trial court's instructions to jury.

At the trial, counsel for the respondent presented the court with fifty-six requests to charge. One of these, number 34, was as follows:

'34. It is proper for the Jury to know and this Court charges you that if you find the Respondent not guilty by reason of insanity this does not mean that he will be free to live in society again. Under our law if a person is acquitted by reason of insanity the Court may order him to be confined in the State Prison or in the Vermont State Hospital, or in some other suitable place, if the discharge or going at large is considered dangerous to the community.'

In connection with the foregoing request, counsel for the respondent called to the trial court's attention the cases of Taylor v. United States, 95 U.S.App.D.C. 373, 222 F.2d 398 and Lyles v. United States, 103 U.S.App.D.C. 22, 254 F.2d 725. The trial court did not comply with this request, nor did it otherwise charge concerning its subject matter. Thereupon, counsel for the respondent duly excepted to the court's failure to charge as outlined in his request.

The argument seeking reversal here is the argument made below. The same two federal cases are cited. No others on the point have been brought to our attention and we have found none. Accordingly it has been with great care that we have examined the reasoning of the two cases upon which the respondent would have us base our decision here.

Let it be noted at the outset that both cases are from the same Circuit and hence, in effect, they represent but a single authority. The first of these was Taylor v. United States, 222 F.2d 398. The majority of the court held that 'when an accused person has pleaded insanity, counsel may and the judge should inform the jury that if he is acquitted by reason of insanity he will be presumed to be insane and may be confined in a 'hospital for the insane' as long as 'the public safety and * * * [his] welfare' require.' The only reason advanced by the majority to support this holding is to be found in a single sentence which reads: 'Though this fact has no theoretical bearing on the jury's verdict it may have a practical bearing.' The judgment in the case was reversed expressly on other grounds with which the court was primarily occupied.

In the second of the two cases, Lyles v. United States, 254 F.2d 725, the same court had occasion to pass upon the adequacy of a trial court's charge given in compliance with the earlier decision. In holding that there had been substantial compliance with the rule laid down in its earlier decision the court went on to give its reasons for having it:

'The issue of insanity having been fairly raised, the jury may return one of three verdicts, guilty, not guilty, or not guilty by reason of insanity. Jurors, in common with people in general, are aware of the meanings of verdicts of guilty and not guilty. It is common knowledge that a verdict of not guilty means that the prisoner goes free and that a verdict of guilty means that he is subject to such punishment as the court may impose. But a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity has no such commonly understood meaning. * * * It means neither freedom nor punishment. It means the accused will be confined in a hospital for the mentally ill until the superintendent of such hospital certifies, and the court is satisfied, that such person has recovered his sanity and will not in the reasonable future be dangerous to himself or others. We think that the jury has a right to know the meaning of this possible verdict as accurately as it knows by common knowledge the meaning of the other two possible verdicts.'

We break off the quotation in order to observe that we doubt that people in general are as ill-informed on the subject as the opinion assumes. But we resume once more with what was said:

'Sometimes a defendant may not want such an instruction given. If that appears affirmatively on the record we would not regard failure to give it as grounds for reversal. Otherwise, whenever hereafter the defense of insanity is fairly raised, the trial judge shall instruct the jury as to the legal meaning of a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity in accordance with the view expressed in this opinion.'

It is to be noted that the opinion does not address itelf to the problem of what the trial court should do if the defendant affirmatively makes clear he does not desire the instruction but the prosecution does. We think that the latter part of the opinion discloses the unacceptable nature of the reasoning upon which the holding rests. It is not one which we would care to follow. At its best it tends to give justice, as applied to this situation, an a la carte quality in which the defendant may make as wily a choice as possible. If the rule were just, there would be no room for maneuvering of this sort. At its worst, the rule would seem to come close to inviting the jury to compromise, or at least to diverting their collective minds into areas which are not for their...

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36 cases
  • Government of Virgin Islands v. Fredericks
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • June 7, 1978
    ...309 N.Y.S.2d 145, 151, 257 N.E.2d 610, Cert. denied, 399 U.S. 931, 90 S.Ct. 2262, 26 L.Ed.2d 800 (1970). See generally State v. Hood, 123 Vt. 273, 187 A.2d 499 (1963); State v. Wade, 96 Conn. 238, 113 A. 458 (1921); Annot., 11 A.L.R.3d 737 (1967 & Supp.1977).12 Fredericks also urges that th......
  • Com. v. Mutina
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • February 11, 1975
    ...have noted, prompt a jury to find insanity where the evidence might not otherwise have warranted such a finding.' In State v. Hood, 123 Vt. 273, 187 A.2d 499 (1963), the court quoted from both the Taylor and the Lyles cases. As to the statement in the Lyles case about the jury's not being w......
  • People v. Moore
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 15, 1985
    ...doubt that people in general are as ill-informed on post-insanity verdict disposition as the Lyles opinion assumes, State v. Hood, supra, 123 Vt. 273, 187 A.2d 499, 501; and (3) the procedural aspects of requesting the instruction tend to give justice an "a la carte quality." (Id.) We deal ......
  • Gov't of the Virgin Islands v. Fredericks, 77-1963
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • April 24, 1978
    ...People v. Adams, 26 N.Y.2d 129, 257 N.E.2d 610, 309 N.Y.S.2d 145, 151, cert. denied, 399 U.S. 931 (1970). See generally State v. Hood, 123 Vt. 273, 87 A.2d 499 (1963); State v. Wade, 96 Conn. 238, 113 A. 458 (1921); Annot., 11 A.L.R.3d 737 (1967 & Supp. 1977). 13. Fredericks also urges that......
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