Hendershott v. People

In Hendershott v. People, 653 P.2d 385 (Colo. 1982), the Supreme Court of Colorado rejected the rule that the evidence of diminished capacity is limited to specific intent crimes. The issue was whether a defendant may offer mental impairment evidence to contest the culpability element for nonspecific intent crimes. In Hendershott, the trial court precluded the defendant's introduction of evidence of mental impairment to negate the requisite culpability for the crime charged against him, to wit, an offense whose mental states were knowingly and recklessly. Id. at 388. The appellate court reversed the defendant's conviction. Id. The court held that "reliable and relevant evidence of mental impairment is admissible, upon proper foundation, to negate the culpability element of the criminal charge." Id. at 394. The court stated that its holding was consistent with the Model Penal Code's provision regarding admissibility of such evidence. Id. at n. 6. The court further reasoned that an accused is entitled to the presumption of innocence on all elements of a charge and is protected from conviction unless the prosecution establishes the requisite mens rea by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. at 393. The court observed that preventing the defendant from introducing such evidence leaves the jury with only the single evidentiary consideration of whether the prosecution has met its burden of proof and results in a de facto presumption which clashes with the presumption of innocence. Id. Similarly, concerns with respect to the constitutional standard of proof are implicated in that "denying the defendant any opportunity to controvert the prosecution's case by reliable and relevant evidence of mental impairment, in addition to cutting against our traditional concept of the adversary system, downgrades the prosecution's burden to something less than that mandated by due process of law." Id.