State v. Neely, 19085

Citation1991 NMSC 87,819 P.2d 249,112 N.M. 702
Decision Date20 September 1991
Docket NumberNo. 19085,19085
PartiesSTATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Judith NEELY, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtSupreme Court of New Mexico

BACA, Justice.

Defendant Judith Neely appeals her conviction on one count of first degree murder, three counts of attempted murder, and two counts of aggravated battery, for which she received a sentence of life imprisonment plus twenty-seven years.

Neely, who had a history of mental illness, drove her car into a family, killing one member, injuring two others, and leaving one physically uninjured. The sole issue at trial was whether she was criminally insane. Pursuant to NMSA 1978, Section 31-9-3 (Repl.Pamp.1984), the jury returned a verdict of guilty but mentally ill. Appellant presents the following issues for our consideration: (1) Whether the guilty but mentally ill verdict violates due process or equal protection, or subjects a defendant to cruel and unusual punishment; (2) whether restriction of voir dire and failure to instruct the jury on the consequences of the insanity and the guilty but mentally ill verdicts deprived appellant of due process and a fair trial; (3) whether the court's communication with an ill juror in appellant's absence requires reversal; (4) whether the court abused its discretion when it failed to declare a mistrial after being informed the jury was deadlocked; (5) whether sentencing violated double jeopardy principles; (6) whether the composition of the jury venire violated appellant's statutory and constitutional rights, and (7) whether cumulative error deprived appellant of a fair trial. After consideration of appellant's arguments and an amicus brief filed by the New Mexico Trial Lawyer's Association in support of appellant, we affirm.

The statutory provisions pertinent to the verdict of guilty but mentally ill are NMSA 1978, Section 31-9-31 to -42 (Repl.Pamp.1984).3

A. Due Process.

Appellant argues that the verdict of guilty but mentally ill is per se violative of her due process rights as guaranteed by the fifth and fourteenth amendments of the United States Constitution and by Article II, Sections 14 and 18 of the New Mexico Constitution.4 Essentially, three due process claims are presented: Sections 31-9-3 and -4 do not fulfill a legitimate purpose, they confuse the jury regarding criminal responsibility, and they create the risk of a compromise verdict.

When considering the constitutionality of legislative action: "It is the duty of this Court to uphold statutes unless it is satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that the Legislature went outside the Constitution in enacting the challenged legislation." State v. Ball, 104 N.M. 176, 178, 718 P.2d 686, 688 (1986). "In scrutinizing the constitutionality of a statute, we presume that the Legislature performed its duty and kept within the bounds fixed by the Constitution." Id. at 182, 718 P.2d at 692. "[W]e refuse to inquire into 'the wisdom, the policy or the justness of an act of the legislature.' " McGeehan v. Bunch, 88 N.M. 308, 310, 540 P.2d 238, 240 (1975) (quoting Gruschus v. Bureau of Revenue, 74 N.M. 775, 777, 399 P.2d 105, 106 (1965)).

1. Legitimate State Purpose.

The statute authorizing the verdict of guilty but mentally ill is challenged on the basis that it does not advance a legitimate state purpose and is not designed to reasonably remedy the evils it is to prevent.5

It is asserted that because the statute does not mandate treatment,6 the state's purpose--to distinguish mentally ill defendants from guilty ones so that the criminally responsible yet mentally ill will be treated--is not legitimate. See People v. Delaughter, 124 Mich.App. 356, 335 N.W.2d 37 (1983). Pursuant to the consent decree entered in Duran v. Apodaca, No. 77-721-C (D.N.M. July 14, 1980), and Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976), the state must make available necessary psychiatric care to all convicted defendants, whether guilty but mentally ill or simply guilty. It is further suggested that, because the jury evaluates the defendant's mental state as it existed at the time the crime was committed rather than as of trial, it is an imprecise measure of who needs treatment.

It is concluded that the remaining purpose behind the statute--to induce compromise verdicts and thereby reduce the likelihood that a jury will find a defendant not guilty by reason of insanity--is impermissible. Accordingly, the jury is asserted to believe the verdict of guilty but mentally ill guarantees treatment while keeping the defendant off the streets. Moreover, it is suggested that consideration of the guilty but mentally ill verdict deflects the jury's attention from issues of guilt and innocence by inserting irrelevant issues into deliberations with the accompanying risk of impermissible compromise.

We do not agree that there are no legitimate or rational purposes for the statute. The legislature legitimately could have intended the verdict to reduce the number of improper or inaccurate insanity acquittals and to give jurors an alternative to acquittal when mental illness is believed to play a part in an offense. The verdict clarifies for the jury the distinction between a defendant who is not guilty by reason of insanity and one who is mentally ill yet not criminally insane and, therefore, is criminally liable. The verdict also may assist in identification of convicted defendants in need of psychiatric treatment and facilitate just sentencing of mentally ill defendants. See United States ex rel. Weismiller v. Lane, 815 F.2d 1106, 1110-11 (7th Cir.1987); see generally Annotation, "Guilty But Mentally Ill" Statutes, 71 A.L.R.4th 702, Sec. 18 (1989) (summarizing various purposes of statutes).

By focussing the jury's attention on the question of legal culpability, the statute increases the likelihood that the jury will return a verdict in accordance with the appropriate legal standards--and it is a legitimate state interest to see juries return verdicts that accord with the law.

The state has a legitimate interest in having juries decide cases according to the law. The legislature could well have believed that many defendants were being found not guilty by reason of insanity even though they did not satisfy the legal standard for the defense.

The difficulty is that lay juries are presented with complicated and to some extent conflicting notions of what renders a person "insane" in legal, psychiatric, and common sense terms. The [guilty but mentally ill] statutes are designed to insure that the jury applies the legal definition of insanity, by underscoring that a person might be "mentally ill" in clinical terms, "crazy" in common sense terms, yet not legally insane. As the Michigan Supreme Court has noted, "It is well within the power of the Legislature to attempt to cure what it sees as a misuse of the law."

We believe it is beyond question that the state could instruct a jury that it cannot acquit on the basis of insanity unless the legal test for insanity has been met. We see no additional objection which can be raised because the state chooses to formalize these instructions by providing a separate verdict form.

Weismiller, 815 F.2d at 1112 (quoting People v. Ramsey, 422 Mich. 500, 512, 375 N.W.2d 297, 301 (1985) citation omitted); see also Taylor v. State, 440 N.E.2d 1109, 1112-13 (Ind.1982) (guilty but mentally ill verdict serves state interest of securing just convictions); Commonwealth v. Trill, 374 Pa.Super. 549, 543 A.2d 1106 (1988) (verdict eliminates wrongful relief from criminal liability--a rational legislative goal), alloc. denied, 522 Pa. 603, 562 A.2d 826 (1989); State v. Baker, 440 N.W.2d 284, 288 (S.D.1989) (insanity distinguished from mental illness based on requirement of a finding of knowledge or intent creating criminal responsibility; verdict of guilty but mentally ill requires different factual predicate and allows jury a better understanding of the spectrum of criminal responsibility recognized by law).

The reasonableness and legitimacy of the state's purpose and means are not diminished because all convicted defendants must be given necessary psychiatric care whether found guilty or guilty but mentally ill and because the statute only provides for care as deemed necessary. The verdict, while allowing the jury to signal to the sentencing court and the department of corrections that in its judgment after having considered the facts presented the defendant is a person in need of evaluation, is not a clinical diagnosis but a legal determination of guilt.

2. Defendant Received a Fair Trial.

Appellant argues that the guilty but mentally ill verdict adds nothing to the existing gradations of the law--the traditional verdicts of guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity cover the spectrum of criminal responsibility. She then concludes that the verdict does not clarify and, indeed, confuses the concept of degrees of criminal responsibility and leads to compromise verdicts. We already have determined that the legislature legitimately could determine that the traditional verdict of guilty required clarification so that a jury could understand that the classification of guilty encompasses those with mental illness, but not those who are criminally insane at the time the crime is committed. Whether the verdict inserted a...

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