State v. Simmons

In State v. Simmons, 172 W. Va. 590, 309 S.E.2d 89 (1983), the Court affirmed the circuit court's denial of a diminished capacity instruction. Justice Miller discussed the diminished capacity doctrine, but found it was unnecessary to adopt its principles under the circumstances presented as the evidence did not support the defense. The Court's discussion, however, demonstrates an interpretation of the doctrine commensurate with the authorities cited earlier in this opinion. The Simmons Court explained that the diminished capacity doctrine "is designed to permit a defendant to introduce expert testimony regarding his impaired mental condition to show that he was incapable of forming a specific criminal intent. Customarily, it is utilized to negate the elements of premeditation and deliberate intent in first-degree murder or malice aforethought in second-degree murder." 172 W. Va. at 599, 309 S.E.2d at 98. The Court elaborated that the reason for allowing a defendant to assert the defense of diminished capacity is to permit the jury to determine if the defendant should be convicted of some lesser degree of homicide because the requisite mental intent to commit first-degree or second degree murder is not present by virtue of the defendant's mental disease or defect." Id., 309 S.E.2d at 98. The court cautioned, however, that "the existence of a mental illness is not alone sufficient to trigger a diminished capacity defense. It must be shown by psychiatric testimony that some type of mental illness rendered the defendant incapable of forming the specific intent elements." Id. at 600, 309 S.E.2d at 99. The Court concluded that the expert testimony offered by the defendant did not meet the standard for a diminished capacity defense. In that case the Court related that "the defendant did not offer any psychiatric testimony to the effect that by virtue of some mental disease or defect, she was incapable of forming the specific intent required either for first-degree murder, i.e. premeditation, deliberate intent to kill, or for second-degree murder, i.e. malice aforethought." 172 W. Va. at 600, 309 S.E.2d at 99. The court went on to explain that the treating psychiatrist "was not asked whether the defendant's mental condition rendered her incapable of forming a specific intent to kill." Id., 309 S.E.2d at 99. Similarly, a second defense witness "was not asked as to the defendant's capacity to form the requisite specific intent elements." Id., 309 S.E.2d at 99.