Attorneys for Appellant Attorneys for Appellee
Timothy J. OConnor Steve Carter
Indianapolis, Indiana Attorney General
Deputy Attorney General
Office of the Attorney General
Appeal from the Marion Superior Court, No. 49F09-0102-DF-036615
The Honorable Evan Goodman, Judge
On Petition To Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 49A04-0205-CR-215
March 23, 2004
When police arrived at the scene, Thompson was driving away in her own
vehicle. Officers stopped her and obtained her general information but then
released her as only a suspect. Meanwhile, another officer interviewed Beeler and
learned the foregoing facts. Thompson then telephoned Beeler several times, threatening to
shoot up Beeler and her house. Thompson was taken into custody
at her home about an hour and a half after the initial incident.
The State charged Thompson with residential entry, a class D felony, Ind. Code
§ 35-43-2-1.5 (West 1998). She was released on bond and subsequently committed acts on February 14 that led to her being charged with one count of battery, a class C felony, and three counts of criminal recklessness, class D felonies. These charges were tried in a separate case docketed in a different courtroom.
In this case, Thompson pled not guilty by reason of insanity and waived
her right to a jury trial. The parties submitted the matter to
the trial judge on the basis of stipulated evidence. The evidence included (1)
a stipulation to the truth of the facts as stated in the probable
cause affidavit, including that Thompson committed the charged acts, (2) the reports of
the court-appointed psychiatrists that were prepared for the trial resulting from Thompsons acts
on February 14, and (3) documents from previous emergency detention and commitment proceedings
unrelated to these events.
The court found Thompson guilty but mentally ill and sentenced her to the
maximum three years. Thompson appealed the trial courts rejection of her insanity
defense, and the Court of Appeals reversed. It held that in the
absence of evidence to contradict Thompsons expert testimony, she was entitled to an
Thompson v. State, 782 N.E.2d 451 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003).
We granted transfer.
Garner v. State, 704 N.E.2d 1011, 1013-14 (Ind. 1998) (citations omitted). To avoid
responsibility for the crime proven by the State, the defendant must establish the
defense by a preponderance of the evidence. Ind. Code Ann. § 35-41-4-1(b).
Whether or not a defendant can appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct is a question for the trier of fact. A convicted defendant who claims his insanity defense should have prevailed at trial is in the position of one appealing from a negative judgment, and we will reverse only when the evidence is without conflict and leads only to the conclusion that the defendant was insane when the crime was committed. Robinette v. State, 741 N.E.2d 1162 (Ind. 2001); Rogers v. State, 514 N.E.2d 1259 (Ind. 1987). We will not reweigh the evidence or assess the credibility of witnesses but will consider only the evidence most favorable to the judgment and the reasonable and logical inferences to be drawn therefrom. Metzler v. State, 540 N.E.2d 606 (Ind. 1989).
Although expert opinions provide a strong justification for raising the insanity defense, we
have never held expert testimony to be conclusive.
Cate v. State, 644
N.E.2d 546, 547 (Ind. 1994). Cases like Thompsons have often turned on
the proposition that the trier of fact is free to disregard the testimony
of experts and rely upon the testimony of lay witnesses. Garner, 704
N.E.2d at 1014; Barany v. State, 658 N.E.2d 60, 63-64 (Ind. 1995); Rogers,
514 N.E.2d at 1261. Indeed, we have noted that testimony regarding behavior
before, during, and after a crime may be more indicative of actual mental
health at time of the crime than mental exams conducted weeks or months
later. Barany, 658 N.E.2d at 64.
Conflicting lay testimony is not required, however, for the trier of fact to
reject expert testimony. As a general rule, factfinders are not required to
believe a witnesss testimony even when it is uncontradicted. If judges and
juries can disbelieve uncontradicted testimony about facts, they are surely entitled to decide
whether to accept or reject testimony that represents a witnesss opinion. The
psychiatrists reports in this case merely offer their opinions about Thompsons state of
mind two days after she committed the crime at issue. As it
happens, the trial judge to whom these opinions and the remainder of the
evidence were submitted is among the most knowledgeable of Indianas judicial officers on
mental health matters. He was not persuaded, and we can think of
little reason to second-guess that judgment.
The State contends that non-medical evidence of [Thompsons] sanity could be gleaned from
the affidavit. (Appellees Br. 5.) Specifically, it cites Thompsons removal of
only her own possessions from Beelers home as indicating her awareness of the
propriety of taking only what belonged to her and hence her awareness of
right and wrong.
Id. It further argues that because the officers
who stopped Thompson when she was leaving the scene felt comfortable releasing her,
they must have felt she was sufficiently lucid to be allowed to go
about her business. Id. The Court of Appeals rejected the States
argument, correctly stating that in reviewing the judgment, we review only the reasonable
inferences to be drawn from the facts and finding that there were other
more reasonable inferences that could be drawn from those facts. Thompson, 782
N.E.2d at 454 (citation omitted).
The question, however, is whether the inferences supporting the judgment were reasonable, not
whether there were other more reasonable inferences that could have been made.
Reaching alternative inferences such as this is a function of the trier of
fact, not this Court. We cannot reverse the conviction merely because this
inference is a plausible one that might have been drawn from the evidence.
Askew v. State, 439 N.E.2d 1350, 1352 (Ind. 1982). As we
said in Metzler v. State:
Triers of fact determine not only the facts presented to them and their credibility, but any reasonable inferences from facts established either by direct or circumstantial evidence. It is not necessary that the court find the circumstantial evidence excludes every reasonable hypothesis of innocence. It need only be demonstrated that inferences may reasonably be drawn which support the finding of guilt.
540 N.E.2d at 610 (citations omitted).
In Cate, we upheld the jurys determination that the defendant was not legally insane despite unanimous expert testimony to the contrary, saying that the evidence was not uncontroverted because the defendants lucidity after his arrest, conflicting claims about his motivation, and an incentive to lie provided at least the minimal evidentiary justification [necessary] for the jury to find him sane enough to be held legally accountable for his actions. 644 N.E.2d at 548. Similarly, in this case two experts submitted reports indicating that they believed that, due to her mental illness, Thompson could not appreciate the wrongfulness of her actions when she kicked in Beelers window and entered the house. The trial judge was not persuaded by these opinions, however, in light of the rest of the record. When Thompson was released from the hospital on February 9, only days before the incident, she had no active psychotic symptoms, no homicidal or suicidal ideations, and was calm and pleasant without agitation. (Tr. at 12).
The trier of fact was entitled to prefer this evidence to psychiatric examinations
conducted weeks or months later. In the course of the sentencing hearing,
the judge provided some insight into why he did so. He cited
Thompsons history of avoiding criminal responsibility through her illness, her conflicting stories about
what happened to her medication, her decision to use illegal drugs and drink
alcohol while on her medication, and lies she told one of the examining
psychiatrists regarding that use of drugs and alcohol. The judge had concluded
that she knew her actions were wrong but was using her illness to
manipulate the system. (Tr. at 39-44).
The evidence on the issue of insanity clearly was in conflict and
did not lead inexorably to a single conclusion.
Rogers, 514 N.E.2d at 1261.
We find that based on the evidence presented, the trier of fact
could have found that Thompson was mentally ill but able to distinguish right
Dickson, Boehm, and Rucker, JJ., concur.
Sullivan, J., concurs with separate opinion.
This case has some history that I think is worth reciting. As
the majority opinion says, the expert opinions in this case were unanimous that
Rita Thompson was insane when she committed the crimes at issue here.
The Court of Appeals found this evidence "uncontradicted" and reversed her conviction.
782 N.E.2d 451 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003).
On the same day that the Court of Appeals decided Thompson's appeal, the
same panel of the Court of Appeals also rendered an opinion in the
case of Michael L. Moler,
Moler v. State, 782 N.E.2d 454 (Ind. Ct.
App. 2003), trans. denied 792 N.E.2d 43 (Ind. 2003). As in Thompson,
the expert opinions in Moler's case were unanimous that he was insane when
he committed the crimes at issue. However, there was also lay evidence
in Moler that contradicted the experts' opinions. The Court of Appeals reluctantly
rejected Moler's claim that because the experts' opinions that he was insane were
uncontradicted, there was insufficient evidence to convict him. I say reluctantly because
the Court of Appeals said in Moler:
Barany [v. State, 658 N.E.2d 60 (Ind. 1995)], has made it very difficult even for defendants with well-documented mental illnesses to successfully raise the insanity defense. Under the rule of Barany, even if all expert testimony regarding a defendant's state of mind points to the fact that the defendant could not have appreciated the wrongfulness of his actions at the time of a crime, the jury is free to disregard the experts' opinions in favor of lay evidence of the defendant's demeanor before and after the crime.
782 N.E.2d at 454. Barany was still another case where the expert opinions were unanimous that Barany was insane when he committed the crimes at issue. But like Moler, there was lay evidence that contradicted the experts' opinions. Based on all the evidence presented, Justice DeBruler's opinion said:
The jury could have decided that this testimony about appellant's behavior was more indicative of his actual mental health at the time of the killing than medical
examinations conducted four weeks after the arrest. Given this conflicting evidence, we will
not invade the jury's fact-finding province.
658 N.E.2d at 64.
It is probably not coincidence that the same panel of the Court of Appeals decided two cases involving exactly the same issues on exactly the same day, one in favor of the State and the other in favor of the defendant. The Court of Appeals likely expected petitions to transfer with respect to both cases to reach our Court at the same time. However, Moler reached our court and we disposed of it (denying Moler's petition to transfer by vote of 3-2) prior to receiving the petition to transfer in Thompson. At such, we did not consider them together.
Moler, of course, constituted a direct request by the Court of Appeals for
us to constrict the rule of Barany. Because a vote to deny
a petition for transfer does not constitute a vote on the merits, that
issue remained open even after Moler's petition to transfer was denied. But
today we unambiguously reaffirm the rule of Barany.
There may be a temptation to read into today's opinion -- because we
reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals -- a suggestion that Barany
has been expanded and that psychiatric testimony is even less weighty than before.
I do not believe that to be the Court's intent. It
seems to me that the law would require us, even under today's opinion,
to set aside a conviction where (1) there was unanimous credible, expert testimony
that a defendant was insane at the time of the crime at issue
and (2) there was no other evidence of probative value from which a
conflicting inference could be drawn. Said differently, there will be insufficient evidence
to convict where (1) there is unanimous credible, expert testimony that a defendant
is insane at the time of the crime at issue and (2) there
is no other evidence of probative value from which a conflicting inference can
be drawn. But we find that there was such evidence here.