In 2007, John Okie, an allegedly schizophrenic twenty-year-old, brutally murdered his father and his nineteen-year-old friend. At trial, Okie asserted an insanity defense. The jury found him guilty of intentional and knowing murder; he will be incarcerated until he is at least seventy-two years old. During trial, Okie requested that the jury receive an instruction regarding what would happen to him if they returned a verdict of not criminally responsible by reason of insanity. The instruction was refused. He appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, which affirmed the trial court’s decision. Generally, Maine common law bars a jury instruction as to the consequences of a NCRRI verdict. This tenet finds its genesis in the 1963 case of State v. Park, which the Law Court has reaffirmed numerous times. The precedent is largely based on the reasoning that, in Maine, juries serve only a fact-finding function, while judges impose sentences, and thus, “the consequences of a particular verdict are therefore technically irrelevant to the jury’s task.” Outside of Maine there is no consensus on the issue. In 1994, the United States Supreme Court ruled that federal district courts should not give such an instruction to the jury; however, the decision came with a strong dissent. In state courts there is a near-even split, with more than twenty states allowing the instruction. These jurisdictions hold that the jury should be informed on the consequences of a NCRRI verdict in order to dispel the perhaps common misconception that an extremely dangerous defendant may “go free” if found insane. This Note will examine Maine precedent, the relevant Maine statutory law on the insanity defense, mandated commitment following an insanity acquittal, and the procedures for subsequent review. Further, it will discuss federal and state positions. This Note will then turn to studies of the public’s perception of the insanity defense before focusing on juror-based studies and examining scholarly commentary on the issue. Ultimately, after discussing the reasoning in Okie, it will argue that the Law Court’s decision was unwise because some of the precedent relied on should no longer be considered authority. Further, it will argue that jurors in insanity trials in Maine serve a quasi-sentencing function in light of Maine’s mandated commitment statute, whereby an insanity acquitee is automatically confined to a mental institution. The majority of other states with a similar statutory scheme instruct the jury on the dispositional consequences of a NCRRI verdict and this Note will reason that Maine should follow their lead. Finally, this Note will argue that any possible detriment in giving the instruction is far outweighed by the risk of not giving it because of the possibility of a miscarriage of justice and the incarceration and punishment of a very sick individual.
Christopher J. Rauscher,
"I Did Not Want a Mad Dog Released" - The Results of Imperfect Ignorance: Lack of Jury Instructions Regarding the Consequences of an Insanity Verdict in State v. Okie,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol63/iss2/15