Is the Standard Jury Instruction Sufficent In Cases Involving Insanity ?
In Smith v. State, 521 So. 2d 106 (Fla. 1988), this Court considered a certified question of great public importance:
"Whether the jury instruction on insanity disapproved in Yohn v. State, 476 So. 2d 123 (Fla. 1985), is fundamental error requiring reversal in the absence of an objection?" 521 So. 2d at 107. This Court answered the certified question in the negative and reasoned:
There was no constitutional infirmity in the old standard jury instruction because there is no denial of due process to place the burden of proof of insanity on the defendant. Leland v. Oregon, 343 U.S. 790, 72 S. Ct. 1002, 96 L. Ed. 1302 (1952).
The basis for the decision in Yohn was that under Florida law where there is evidence of insanity sufficient to present a reasonable doubt of sanity in the minds of the jurors, the presumption of sanity vanishes and the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was sane. Holmes v. State, 374 So. 2d 944 (Fla. 1979), cert. denied, 446 U.S. 913, 100 S. Ct. 1845, 64 L. Ed. 2d 267 (1980).
The Court in Yohn felt that the standard jury instruction was not sufficiently clear on this subject. Since the defendant had requested an instruction which more adequately set forth Florida law, Yohn's conviction was reversed.
There was no reference in Yohn to fundamental error in the giving of the standard jury instruction.
The doctrine of fundamental error should be applied only in rare cases where a jurisdictional error appears or where the interests of justice present a compelling demand for its application. Ray v. State, 403 So. 2d 956 (Fla. 1981).
While we do not recede from our view in Yohn concerning the inadequacy of the old standard jury instruction on insanity, we cannot say that it was so flawed as to deprive defendants claiming the defense of insanity of a fair trial.
Despite any shortcomings, the standard jury instructions, as a whole, made it quite clear that the burden of proof was on the state to prove all the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
As noted in State v. Lancia, 499 So. 2d 11 (Fla. 5th DCA 1986), in which the court rejected a claim for post-conviction relief where the old standard jury instruction on insanity had been given without objection:
Different jurisdictions handle this defense in different ways, and whether the state or the defendant has the ultimate burden of proof on this issue, does not in either case make the trial fundamentally unfair.Smith, 521 So. 2d at 107-08.