April 9, 2012

Colorado Supreme Court 3-26-12 People v. Wilburn

People v. Wilburn            Mens rea / Mistake of Fact / Expert Opinion / Insanity
Facts: Mr. Wilburn missed a court date on the morning of Monday, May 16. However, after being contacted by his attorney, Mr. Wilburn arrived at 1:30PM on the 16th. Essentially, Mr. Wilburn arrived about 5 hours late for court. Never an office to miss an opportunity to be petty, the District Attorney’s Office added a charge of violating a condition of bond. In his defense, Mr. Wilburn asserted he suffers from a severe learning disorder where he transposes numbers – here a 6 for a 9. Thus, Mr. Wilburn believed the trial court set his hearing date for the 19th instead of the 16th. Prior to trial, Mr. Wilburn’s attorney gave notice to the court and the prosecution that Mr. Wilburn intended to introduce evidence of his learning disorder to negate the mens rea element of knowingly violating the bond condition – a mistake of fact under C.R.S. §18-1-504(1)(a). Both the prosecution and the trial court believed the issue of the learning disability was the type that required a plea of insanity or impaired mental condition. Thus, the prosecution sought an extensive, 45-day, inpatient evaluation of Mr. Wilburn by the state hospital, and the trial court, believing it had no discretion, ordered the same. The defense argued, under C.R.S. §16-8-107(b), the trial court does have the authority to set the time and place of the evaluation. The defense argued the statute carves out a section for situations like Mr. Wilburn's. Thus, the statute, under that specific section, only requires an expert evaluation of the condition. 
Issue: Whether the trial court abused its discretion when it found Mr. Wilburn must plead not guilty by reason of insanity or impaired mental condition, requiring an extensive, 45-day, inpatient evaluation by the state hospital?
Held: Yes.
Reasoning: The unanimous Colorado Supreme Court reasoned under C.R.S. §16-8-107(b), the defense could present expert testimony on the issue of Mr. Wilburn’s learning disability without a entering a plea of insanity or impaired mental condition. The Court found the evidence of the learning disability relevant to negate the mens rea element. Further, the Court found that a court-appointed, expert-evaluation of the learning disability should be ordered by the trial court instead of 45-day, inpatient, insanity evaluation at the state hospital. The Court laid out, in baby steps, what defense lawyers and trial courts in the future need to do to assert or present this type of evidence. Lastly, the Colorado Supreme Court, through People v. Van Rees, 125 P.3d 403 (Colo. 2005), People v. Flippo, 159 P.3d 100 (Colo. 2007), and here, in People v. Wilburn, sufficiently defined what may be introduced as evidence to negate the mens rea element without the necessity of pleading not guilty by reason of insanity. 

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