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State of Idaho v. John Joseph Delling

December 1, 2011


Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Deborah Ann Bail, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burdick, Chief Justice

2011 Opinion No. 128

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

Judgment, conviction and sentence for two counts of second-degree murder, affirmed.

John Joseph Delling (Delling) appeals from the judgments of conviction based on his conditional pleas of guilty to two counts of second-degree murder. Delling requests that this Court reconsider and overrule its decision in State v. Searcy, 118 Idaho 632, 798 P.2d 914 (1990), and find that Idaho's abolition of the insanity defense is unconstitutional. Delling also asserts that the district court abused its discretion and imposed excessive sentences.


Delling was initially charged with two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of David Boss and Brad Morse. These counts were later amended to second-degree murder. Shortly after being charged, Delling's counsel motioned for a mental health evaluation to determine whether Delling was fit to proceed and able to aid in his own defense. An examination was ordered by the district court under I.C. § 18-211. On February 27, 2008, Delling was found to lack fitness to proceed, and the district court issued an order of commitment pursuant to I.C. § 18-212. After nearly a year, the district court found that Delling's mental state had improved and that he would be capable of aiding in his own defense.

Before trial, Delling's counsel filed a notice of an intent to produce psychological evidence to show that Delling was incapable of forming the required mens rea. The State responded by filing a motion to allow mental health experts access to Delling in order to conduct an evaluation under I.C. § 18-207(4)(c). Delling objected, arguing that such mandated access would violate his right to remain silent and be free from self-incrimination.

Delling's motion also asked the district court to declare I.C. § 18-207, the legislative abrogation of mental condition as a defense, unconstitutional on its face and as applied. More specifically, the motion argued that the statute violates the 5th, 6th, 8th, and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Sections 2, 7, and 13 of the Idaho Constitution. The district court denied the motion, holding that "[s]imply because Idaho does not recognize an insanity defense does not mean that mentally ill offenders are deprived of any right recognized under either the United States Constitution or the Idaho Constitution."

Delling agreed to enter a conditional plea of guilty to second-degree murder, preserving the right to appeal the decision on his motion to declare I.C. § 18-207 unconstitutional, in both cases, in exchange for the prosecutor's recommendation of concurrent sentences. Upon pleading guilty, Delling was sentenced to determinate life for the second-degree murder of Brad Morse, set to run concurrently with his determinate life sentence for pleading guilty to the second-degree murder of David Boss. Delling timely appealed the judgment.


A. Idaho's abolition of the insanity defense does not violate Delling's due process rights under the Idaho Constitution or his Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution.

In 1982, the Idaho Legislature repealed I.C. § 18-209 ("[m]ental disease or defect excluding responsibility as an affirmative defense") and enacted new language in I.C. § 18- 207(a) to provide that "[m]ental condition shall not be a defense to criminal conduct," which abolished the insanity defense in criminal cases.*fn1 See Idaho Sess. Laws, ch. 368, §§ 1 and 2 (1982). Delling argues that the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly held "that, while no specific type of insanity test is constitutionally-mandated, the ability of a defendant to raise the issue of insanity with respect to criminal responsibility is required under the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments." Additionally, Delling argues that the abolition of the insanity defense violates his Sixth Amendment right to present a defense, and his Eighth Amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment. In response, the State argues that I.C. § 18-207 has been repeatedly upheld by this Court, and that Delling has failed to show that these previous decisions are wrong.

1. Standard of Review

"Constitutional issues are purely questions of law over which this Court exercises free review." Meisner v. Potlatch Corp., 131 Idaho 258, 261, 954 P.2d 676, 679 (1998) (quoting Harris v. State Dept. of Health & Welfare, 123 Idaho 295, 297, 847 P.2d 1156, 1158 (1992)). "The party asserting the unconstitutionality of a statute bears the burden of showing its invalidity and must overcome a strong presumption of validity." Olsen v. J.A. Freeman Co., 117 Idaho 706, 709, 791 P.2d 1285, 1288 (1990) (citing Leliefeld v. Johnson, 104 Idaho 357, 659 P.2d 111 (1983)). "It is generally presumed that legislative acts are constitutional, that the state legislature has acted within its constitutional powers, and any doubt concerning interpretation of a statute is to be resolved in favor of that which will render the statute constitutional." Id. (citing State v. Rawson, 100 Idaho 308, 597 P.2d 31 (1979)).

2. The abolition of the insanity defense does not violate Delling's due process rights under the United States and Idaho Constitutions.

Delling argues that Idaho's abolition of the insanity defense violates his due process rights under the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, § 13 of the Idaho Constitution. He contends that the insanity defense predates both constitutions, having a long history back to the reign of Edward I in the 13th Century.*fn2 As such, he argues the defense is included in the respective due process clauses of both constitutions. Article I, Section 13 of the Idaho Constitution states that no person shall be "deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law." Idaho Const. Art. I, § 13. Similarly, the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution ensures that no state shall "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1.

Prior to 1982, Idaho utilized various forms of the insanity defense, most recently the Model Penal Code version of the defense. State v. White, 93 Idaho 153, 160, 456 P.2d 797, 804 (1969). Once the insanity defense was abolished, Idaho shifted to a model that focused on whether a defendant could form the criminal intent necessary to be guilty of the crime to which they stand accused.

Idaho Code § 18-207 does not remove the element of criminal responsibility for the crime. The prosecution is still required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant had the mental capacity to form the necessary intent. Idaho Code § 18-207 merely disallows mental condition from providing a complete defense to the crime and may allow the conviction of persons who may be insane by some former insanity test or medical standard, but who nevertheless have the ability to form intent and to control their actions. The statute expressly allows admission of expert evidence on the issues of mens rea or any state of mind which is an element of the crime. See I.C. § 18-207(b). In addition, the statutes require the sentencing judge to consider and receive evidence of the mental condition of the defendant at the time of sentencing. I.C. § 19-2523. This statutory process provides the necessary safeguards and does not offend the principles of due process as required by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

State v. Card, 121 Idaho 425, 430, 825 P.2d 1081, 1086 (1991).

Delling argues that this approach has been shown to be inadequate and unconstitutional. As part of his argument, Delling cites Finger v. State, a 2001 decision that invalidated Nevada's abolishment of the insanity defense. 27 P.3d 66 (Nev. 2001). In Finger, the Nevada Supreme Court held that the legislature cannot abolish insanity as a complete defense because it is protected by the Nevada and United States Constitutions.*fn3 Id. at 84. Finger took issue with the mens rea model, finding that a focus on intent eliminates the concept of wrongfulness and "ignores the fact that most crimes have a required element of knowledge, willfulness or something beyond the mere performance of an act." Id. at 75. This case complements Delling's argument that the insanity defense predates the Idaho and U.S. Constitutions, and therefore is included within the due process clauses of both documents. However, this conclusion differs from this Court's previous holdings on the subject.

This Court has confirmed the constitutional validity of I.C. § 18-207 in a number of opinions. State v. Searcy was the first opinion in that line of cases. 118 Idaho 632, 798 P.2d 914 (1990). In Searcy, the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to determinate life. Id. at 634, 798 P.2d at 916. Searcy appealed the sentence, arguing, among other things, that the abolition of the insanity defense prevented him from presenting a defense. Id. He claimed that the abolition violated his due process rights by depriving him of a fundamental principle of liberty. Id. In a divided decision, this Court upheld the constitutionality of I.C. § 18-207, holding that the statute did not violate any due process rights.

Accordingly, we conclude . . . that due process as expressed in the Constitutions of the United States and of Idaho does not constitutionally mandate an insanity defense and that I.C. § 18-207 does not deprive the defendant Searcy of his due process rights under the state or federal Constitution.

Searcy, 118 Idaho at 637, 798 P.2d at 919. The ruling was based in part on the United States Supreme Court's opinions in Powell v. Texas, 392 U.S. 514 (1968), Leland v. Oregon, 343 U.S. 790 (1952), and then-Justice Rehnquist's dissent in Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68 (1985) (Rehnquist, J., dissenting).

Subsequent cases have upheld the ruling in Searcy. In Card, the defendant was also convicted of first-degree murder but was sentenced to death. 121 Idaho at 428, 825 P.2d at 1084. Card's defense mirrored Searcy's, and included a claim that I.C. § 18-207 abridges his right to a jury, since a judge hears evidence of mental defect rather than a jury. Id. at 430, 825 P.2d at 1086. The opinion of this Court relied heavily on the Searcy opinion, again upholding the constitutionality of I.C. § 18-207.

In State v. Winn, this Court was faced with an Eighth Amendment challenge to the insanity defense. 121 Idaho 850, 828 P.2d 879 (1992). Winn was convicted of first-degree murder and claimed on appeal that the abrogation of the insanity defense constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Id. at 853-54, 828 P.2d at 882-83. This Court declined to elaborate on past cases, noting that it "is well established that the absence of an insanity defense in capital cases does not violate any constitutional protections." Id. at 854, 828 P.2d at 883.

In State v. Moore, the defendant was charged with the first-degree murder of his wife. 126 Idaho 208, 880 P.2d 238 (1994). On appeal, Moore asked that this Court find I.C. § 18-207 unconstitutional. Citing stare decisis, this Court declined to address the argument. "This Court has repeatedly confirmed the constitutional validity of I.C. § 18-207, which eliminated mental condition as a defense in criminal proceedings." Id. at 210, 880 P.2d at 240. Delling argues that recent United States Supreme Court opinions have cast doubt on the wisdom of the above mentioned rulings. Specifically, he points to the Supreme Court's opinion in Clark v. Arizona, 548 U.S. 735 (2006). He argues that in light of Clark, this Court's reliance on Leland, Powell, and then-Justice Rehnquist's dicta in Ake is no longer justified. In Clark, the Court upheld the constitutionality of an Arizona statute that narrowed the insanity test to the second prong of the M'Naughten test by eliminating the cognitive incapacity element. 548 U.S. at 779. Clark argued that the M'Naughten test represented the minimum that a government must provide. Id. at 748. Under the Arizona law, a defendant will not be adjudged insane unless he demonstrates that "at the time of the commission of the criminal act [he] was afflicted with a mental disease or defect of such severity that [he] did not know the criminal act was wrong," Ariz.Rev.Stat. Ann. § 13-502(A) (West 2001). The Court held that this channeling of mental disease and capacity evidence does not violate due process, nor does it offend any "principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental." Clark, 548 U.S. at 779 (quoting Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, 202 (1977)). "We have never held that the Constitution mandates an insanity defense, nor have we held that the Constitution does not so require. This case does not call upon us to decide the matter." Id. at 752 n.20. In Clark footnote 20, the Court specifically references I.C. ยง 18-207 when it lists the states that have no affirmative insanity defense but provided no opinion on the validity or invalidity of the Idaho statute. Id. However, the Court notes, as in other cases, the traditional recognition that each state has the capacity to define crimes and defenses. Id. at 749. Given all of this, Clark does not invalidate the reasoning in past Idaho opinions. To date, the U.S. Supreme Court has chosen not to address the constitutionality of Idaho's insanity defense scheme, even though ...

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