State v. McVey

Decision Date13 November 1985
Docket NumberNo. 84-479,84-479
Citation376 N.W.2d 585
PartiesSTATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Donald Lee McVEY, Appellant.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Charles L. Harrington, Appellate Defender, and John P. Messina, Asst. Appellate Defender, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Atty. Gen., Rebecca L. Claypool, Asst. Atty. Gen., and James A. Smith, Co. Atty., for appellee.

Considered en banc.

McCORMICK, Justice.

We granted further review of a court of appeals decision in order to determine whether the defense of diminished responsibility is available to a person charged with theft based on exercising control over stolen property in violation of Iowa Code section 714.1(4) (1983). We hold that the defense is unavailable. Because the court of appeals and district court reached the same conclusion in affirming defendant's conviction, we affirm the decision of the court of appeals and the judgment of the district court.

Defendant Donald Lee McVey was charged in October 1983 with second-degree theft based on exercising control over a stolen motor vehicle under Code sections 714.1(4) and 714.2(2) and with attempting to elude a pursuing law enforcement vehicle in violation of Code section 321.279. The State's evidence was that defendant and a companion escaped from a prison farm and stole an automobile in Fort Madison. They were subsequently observed in the automobile in Urbandale and were apprehended and charged after a high speed chase.

Before trial defendant gave the State notice of a defense of diminished responsibility in accordance with Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(b)(1). The State moved to strike the defense on the ground it is unavailable as a defense to the charges involved. The trial court sustained the State's motion, and defendant was precluded at trial from offering the testimony of a psychologist on the issue of diminished responsibility. After his conviction and sentences on the two charges, defendant appealed on two grounds, including a claim of error in the ruling striking the defense. The court of appeals affirmed his conviction. Subsequently we granted further review to respond to defendant's contention that the defense of diminished responsibility is available to one charged with theft based on control of stolen property in violation of section 714.1(4). He does not challenge the remainder of the court of appeals decision.

In relevant part, section 714.1(4) makes it theft for a person to "[exercise] control over stolen property, knowing such property to have been stolen, or having reasonable cause to believe that such property has been stolen, unless the person's purpose is to promptly restore it to the owner or to deliver it to an appropriate public officer." In State v. Hutt, 330 N.W.2d 788, 790 (Iowa 1983), we held that the mens rea of this offense requires proof that the accused actually believe the property is stolen. We have also held that the offense does not require proof of specific intent.

The offense is a general intent crime because it is complete without intent to do a further act or achieve a further consequence. See Eggman v. Scurr, 311 N.W.2d 77, 79 (Iowa 1981). General criminal intent exists when from the circumstances the prohibited result may reasonably be expected to flow from the voluntary act itself "irrespective of any subjective desire to have accomplished such result." State v. Redmon, 244 N.W.2d 792, 797 (Iowa 1976). Thus the crime of theft based on exercising control over stolen property does not require proof of any intent beyond the voluntary act of exercising the prohibited control over property the accused knows is stolen.

In contending the defense of diminished responsibility is available in this case, defendant recognizes that this court has previously held that the defense is not available to crimes that require only a general criminal intent. See Veverka v. Cash, 318 N.W.2d 447, 449 (Iowa 1982). He argues nevertheless that the statutory requirement of proof of knowledge the property was stolen introduces a special mental element that should be subject to the defense. This argument necessitates review of the nature and scope of the diminished responsibility defense.

The diminished responsibility defense was first recognized by this court in State v. Gramenz, 256 Iowa 134, 126 N.W.2d 285 (1964). It is a common law doctrine that "permits proof of defendant's mental condition on the issue of [the defendant's] capacity to form a specific intent in those instances in which the state must prove defendant's specific intent as an element of the crime charged." Id. at 139, 126 N.W.2d at 288. The court held that evidence of an accused's mental unsoundness may be received to negate specific intent, premeditation and deliberation on a charge of first degree murder, refusing, however, to allow the evidence on the elements of malice aforethought and general criminal intent. The court noted:

While malice aforethought is the specific state of mind necessary to convict of murder, it is far different from the specific intent which is a necessary element of murder in the first degree. It may be express or implied from the acts and conduct of defendant.


It appears ... that testimony sufficient to establish defendant's lack of mental capacity to have malice aforethought would also be sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the right and wrong test and entitle defendant to an acquittal on a plea of insanity rather than a reduction of the sentence to manslaughter.

Id. at 142, 126 N.W.2d at 290.

Subsequently this court held that the defense is available to any crime in which specific intent is an element. See State v. Barney, 244 N.W.2d 316, 318 (Iowa 1976). The court has continued to recognize the defense even though it is not listed among the special defenses to crime delineated in Code chapter 701. See State v. Collins, 305 N.W.2d 434, 436 (Iowa 1981). The court has also continued to contrast the defense with the insanity defense, distinguishing diminished responsibility on the ground it allows evidence of mental unsoundness establishing lack of capacity to form a requisite criminal intent rather than requiring proof of the more aggravated kind of distortion of the thinking process required for the absolute defense of insanity. Id. at 436-37.

As of January 1, 1978, the General Assembly codified the insanity defense. See 1976 Iowa Acts ch. 1245, § 104 (codified at Iowa Code § 701.4 (1979)). The statute incorporates the M'Naghten standard previously adopted by this court as a common law rule. This standard requires proof that the person suffered at the time of the offense "from such a diseased or deranged condition of the mind so as to render the person incapable of knowing the nature and quality of the act he or she is committing or incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong in relation to that act." Id. This is obviously a much more stringent standard than is involved in the diminished responsibility defense. Section 701.4 was recently amended to impose the burden on the defendant to prove an insanity defense by a preponderance of the evidence. See 1984 Iowa Acts ch. 1320, § 1.

Both defenses nevertheless are absolute defenses to specific intent crimes. This was the situation when the M'Naghten rule was codified. The question is whether diminished responsibility should be extended, despite codification of the insanity defense, so that it is also an absolute defense to a general intent crime that requires proof of guilty knowledge. We conclude the defense should not be extended beyond specific intent crimes.

In formulating the insanity defense the legislature defined limits upon the effect of evidence of mental disease or defect relating to criminal culpability generally. This court earlier drew the same line at common law in the Gramenz case. It would undercut the legislative policy inherent in the insanity defense for this court to extend the defense of diminished responsibility.

Insanity and mens rea are legal concepts without psychiatric counterparts. As legal concepts they are used to establish limits to legal culpability. The extent to which evidence of mental impairment will be permitted to affect criminal responsibility is therefore a legal question. The argument that evidence of mental impairment should be received because it bears on the mens rea of an offense presupposes that the mens rea requirement has a legal meaning which makes the evidence from the psychological model relevant. See, e.g., 1 P. Robinson, Criminal Law Defenses § 64(c) at 283 (1984) ("the issue ... is a complex one that is tied to one's theory of the nature of the mens rea requirements for criminal offenses").

A prominent psychiatrist observed that, "When the law says that the absence of intent renders one incapable of committing a crime, it really means that the triers are incapable of attaching guilt upon the offender, i.e., of inflicting punishment on one who actually committed a harm which if done by a sane person would be punishable." P. Roche, The Criminal Mind 87 (1958). In practical terms a court's refusal to recognize the relevancy of evidence of mental impairment short of legal insanity results from the court's understanding of the legislative intention concerning the blameworthiness of the defendant's conduct. To the extent evidence of mental impairment that does not meet the legal insanity standard permits an accused to avoid responsibility for otherwise culpable conduct, the policy inherent in the insanity defense is undermined. See W. LeFave and A. Scott, Handbook on Criminal Law § 42 at 331-32 (1972).

In view of the fact the Iowa common law recognized mental impairment other than legal insanity as a defense only to specific intent crimes at the time the insanity defense was codified, we believe the General Assembly drew the line at that point. The legislature thus established the applicable legal standard for deciding culpability upon evidence of mental impairment in c...

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  • Goodwin v. Iowa Dist. Court for Davis Cnty.
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • December 20, 2019
    ...L. Rev. 39, 66–67 (2015). Nor could it. Culpability is a legal question not a neurobiological question. See, e.g. , State v. McVey , 376 N.W.2d 585, 587 (Iowa 1985) ("The extent to which evidence of mental impairment will be permitted to affect criminal responsibility is therefore a legal q......
  • State v. James
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    • September 17, 1986 standard for deciding, in the face of evidence of mental impairment, who should answer for their crimes. State v. McVey, 376 N.W.2d 585, 588 (Iowa 1985). Those who should answer could be selected without regard to the elements of various Defendant's argument is based on two premises: ......
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    ...for insanity). In 1976, the general assembly, endorsing the M'Naghten rule, codified the rule at section 701.4. See State v. McVey, 376 N.W.2d 585, 587 (Iowa 1985) (citing 1976 Iowa Acts ch. 1245, § 104). Section 701.4 was later challenged in State v. Craney, 347 N.W.2d at 679–80. In Craney......
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    • October 25, 2006
    ...that the accused actually believe the property was stolen. But the offense does not require proof of specific intent. State v. McVey, 376 N.W.2d 585, 586 (Iowa 1997). The offense is a general intent crime because it is complete without intent to do a further act or achieve a further consequ......
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  • Current Colorado Law on the Insanity Defense
    • United States
    • Colorado Bar Association Colorado Lawyer No. 24-7, July 1995
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