State v. Messier, No. 84-224

Docket NºNo. 84-224
Citation497 A.2d 740, 145 Vt. 622
Case DateMay 14, 1985
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont

Page 740

497 A.2d 740
145 Vt. 622
STATE of Vermont
v.
Clifford MESSIER.
No. 84-224.
Supreme Court of Vermont.
May 14, 1985.

Page 741

[145 Vt. 624] John J. Easton, Jr., Atty. Gen., Glenn A. Jarrett, Asst. Atty. Gen., Montpelier, Philip H. White, Orleans County State's Atty., Thomas D. Anderson, Deputy State's Atty., and Timothy Collins, Law Clerk (on brief), Newport, for plaintiff-appellant.

Andrew B. Crane, Defender Gen., and David W. Carpenter and Henry Hinton, Appellate Defenders, Montpelier, for defendant-appellee.

Before [145 Vt. 622] ALLEN, C.J., and HILL, UNDERWOOD, PECK and GIBSON, JJ.

[145 Vt. 624] ALLEN, Chief Justice.

This is an interlocutory appeal from a decision of the Orleans District Court, holding Vermont's insanity defense statute, 13 V.S.A. § 4801(b), unconstitutional. Clifford Messier, the defendant, stands charged with murder in the first degree. During pretrial proceedings, Messier gave notice of his intention to rely upon a defense of insanity, in accordance with V.R.Cr.P. 12.1, and then requested the court to instruct the jury that the State bears the burden of proof of a defendant's sanity beyond a reasonable doubt, notwithstanding the Vermont statute placing the burden of proof of insanity upon the defendant. The court ruled that the statute was unconstitutional under both the United States and Vermont Constitutions, and granted the State permission to appeal that ruling pursuant to V.R.A.P. 5 and 13 V.S.A. § 7403(c)(3). We reverse.

Prior to its amendment in 1983, § 4801 defined insanity for purposes of criminal prosecutions, but did not allocate the burden of proof as to this issue. This Court has long held that sanity is an essential element in a criminal prosecution, and that the State bears the burden of proving the defendant's sanity beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Gokey, 136 Vt. 33, 37, 383 A.2d 601, 603 (1978); State v. Bishop, 128 Vt. 221, 227, 260 A.2d 393, 398 (1969); State v. Warner, 91 Vt. 391, 394, [145 Vt. 625] 101 A. 149, 150 (1917). The 1983 amendment added the following language as § 4801(b):

The defendant shall have the burden of proof in establishing insanity as an affirmative defense by a preponderance of the evidence.

The appellee contended, and the District Court agreed, that this enactment, although shifting the burden of proof to the defendant, failed to abrogate the common law rule that sanity is an essential element of the crime. Thus, the appellee contends, the amendment violates the due process clause of the Federal Constitution, as interpreted in Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 95 S.Ct. 1881, 44 L.Ed.2d 508 (1975), by imposing upon the defendant the burden of proving the absence of an essential element of the crime. In addition, the appellee contends that the due process provision of the Vermont Constitution prohibits placing the burden of proving insanity upon the defendant.

I.

A basic notion of due process is that the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt every element necessary to constitute the crime with which a defendant is charged. In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 1072, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970); State v. Dusablon, 142 Vt. 95, 97, 453 A.2d 79, 81 (1982).

This principle does not in itself prevent the legislature from requiring defendants rather than the State to bear the burden of proving their insanity. In Leland v. Oregon, 343 U.S. 790, 72 S.Ct. 1002, 96 L.Ed. 1302 (1952), the United States Supreme Court found constitutional an Oregon statute

Page 742

requiring defendants to prove their insanity beyond a reasonable doubt. This holding was not disturbed when the Court dismissed an appeal challenging a similar statute. Rivera v. Delaware, 429 U.S. 877, 97 S.Ct. 226, 50 L.Ed.2d 160 (1976).

The appellee's claim here is based instead upon two other Supreme Court cases, Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, 97 S.Ct. 2319, 53 L.Ed.2d 281 (1977), and Mullaney v. Wilbur, supra. These cases established that the State's burden under Winship may be met even though the burden of proof on a factor mitigating the crime or exculpating the defendant is placed upon the defendant, if that factor is not one of the elements defining the crime. Thus, where a statute defined the elements of second-degree murder [145 Vt. 626] as the intent to cause the death of another person, and causing the death of another person, there was no constitutional violation where the defendant was required to prove that he acted under the influence of extreme emotional distress, in order to mitigate the offense to manslaughter. Patterson, supra. On the other hand, where a statute defined the elements of murder as an unlawful killing with malice aforethought, the defendant could not be required to prove the absence of such malice in order to mitigate the offense to manslaughter. Mullaney, supra.

Under Patterson and Mullaney, legislatures are permitted to reallocate the burden of proof as to certain matters by redefining crimes to eliminate those matters as elements of the crime, and to place the burden of proof of their absence upon the defendant as mitigating or exculpatory matters. "Our opinions suggest that the prosecution's constitutional duty to negate affirmative defenses may depend, at least in part, on the manner in which the State defines the charged crime." Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 120, 102 S.Ct. 1558, 1567, 71 L.Ed.2d 783 (1982).

The court below found that the legislature's reallocation of the burden of proof as to insanity was incomplete. The legislature, according to the...

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31 practice notes
  • State v. Webster, No. 2016-063
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • October 20, 2017
    ...to the defendant to establish insanity, it evidenced an intent that sanity not be an essential element of the crime. State v. Messier, 145 Vt. 622, 627, 497 A.2d 740, 742 (1995). The same is not true of a defense based upon diminished capacity, which is an attempt to defeat the State's obli......
  • In re G.G., No. 16–231
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • February 3, 2017
    ...Vt. Const. ch. I, art. 10. This Court has interpreted that language as being "synonymous with ‘due process of law.’ " State v. Messier , 145 Vt. 622, 627, 497 A.2d 740, 743 (1985).8 The statutes that control involuntary medication and treatment proceedings apply only to patients who have al......
  • State v. Joyner, No. 14349
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • May 4, 1993
    ...A.2d 503 (1988); State v. Smith, 512 A.2d 818, 823 (R.I.1986); State v. Rough Surface, 440 N.W.2d 746, 758 (S.D.1989); State v. Messier, 145 Vt. 622, 626-28, 497 A.2d 740 (1985); contra People v. District Court, 165 Colo. 253, 266, 439 P.2d 741 (1968). We conclude, therefore, that § 53a-13(......
  • Conway v. Cumming, No. 92-286
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • July 9, 1993
    ...the land, or the judgment of his peers." This Court has held that this language is synonymous with "due process of law." State v. Messier, 145 Vt. 622, 627, 497 A.2d 740, 743...
  • Request a trial to view additional results
31 cases
  • State v. Webster, No. 2016-063
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • October 20, 2017
    ...to the defendant to establish insanity, it evidenced an intent that sanity not be an essential element of the crime. State v. Messier, 145 Vt. 622, 627, 497 A.2d 740, 742 (1995). The same is not true of a defense based upon diminished capacity, which is an attempt to defeat the State's obli......
  • In re G.G., No. 16–231
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • February 3, 2017
    ...Vt. Const. ch. I, art. 10. This Court has interpreted that language as being "synonymous with ‘due process of law.’ " State v. Messier , 145 Vt. 622, 627, 497 A.2d 740, 743 (1985).8 The statutes that control involuntary medication and treatment proceedings apply only to patients who have al......
  • State v. Joyner, No. 14349
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • May 4, 1993
    ...A.2d 503 (1988); State v. Smith, 512 A.2d 818, 823 (R.I.1986); State v. Rough Surface, 440 N.W.2d 746, 758 (S.D.1989); State v. Messier, 145 Vt. 622, 626-28, 497 A.2d 740 (1985); contra People v. District Court, 165 Colo. 253, 266, 439 P.2d 741 (1968). We conclude, therefore, that § 53a-13(......
  • Conway v. Cumming, No. 92-286
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • July 9, 1993
    ...the land, or the judgment of his peers." This Court has held that this language is synonymous with "due process of law." State v. Messier, 145 Vt. 622, 627, 497 A.2d 740, 743...
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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