Intent is a big issue in criminal defense. It means the difference between Murder and Manslaughter, or a Battery and innocence. Sometimes, the evidence is obvious. Maybe you tripped and bumped into someone, rather than intentionally touching him. But when it takes an expert to explain intent, it gets more complicated. Can a mental health expert testify that someone lacked intent due to a diminished capacity? The Fourth District Court of Appeal discusses this matter in T.E.B. v. State. Also, it considers whether it can reverse a conviction if someone didn’t commit a crime as a matter of law.
Attempt to Raise Diminished Capacity at Trial
The State of Florida charges T.E.B. with Attempted First Degree Murder, Robbery and two counts of Felony Battery after he attacks multiple people while living in a juvenile facility. Because T.E.B. is a minor, Florida hides his full name. In his defense, T.E.B. challenges the Attempted First Degree Murder charge claiming that he lacks the mental ability to commit this crime. He raises a diminished capacity argument.
In Florida, the law requires you to act with premeditation to commit First Degree Murder. It takes a greater degree of intent than other offenses where people die. Check out my page discussing Murder charges to get a better idea about the different intents needed to prove these crimes.
T.E.B. plans to call a neuropsychologist to say that his sickle cell trait and mental illness prevent him from forming the required premeditation. In response, the State of Florida files a motion to keep this evidence out. The judge agrees with the State of Florida and bars T.E.B. from admitting this testimony from the doctor. At trial, the judge finds T.E.B. guilty on all four counts. Then T.E.B. appeals.
Limited Grounds for Arguing Diminished Capacity
In Florida, most people plead not guilty when charged with a crime. However, they can be found not guilty by reason of insanity. Rule 3.216 talks about when and how to handle matters when insanity is an issue.
Unfortunately, for T.E.B., the Fourth District relies on the case law discussing this rule in relation to diminished capacity defenses. These cases keep out the doctor’s testimony on diminished capacity because T.E.B.’s lawyer didn’t file a notice under Rule 3.216 asking him to be found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Florida law says that these issues can become very confusing to juries so it limits the times when someone can raise a mental health defense. You must commit to an insanity defense to argue diminished capacity. Evidence of medication issues, epilepsy, infancy or senility are exceptions. Yet, T.E.B. never filed that notice. His diminished capacity dealt with issues outside the exceptions so the judge did the right thing by keeping this evidence out of the trial. The Court affirms the conviction.
Felony Battery Enhancement
T.E.B. also faces two Felony Battery counts. In Florida, you can be charged with a Felony Battery if you commit a simple Battery and have been convicted of Battery in the past. For more info on Battery offenses, check out my page on Assault and Battery. The need for conviction is very important.
Although T.E.B. never challenges his Felony Battery history at trial, he does on appeal. For the first time, he argues the evidence is insufficient to prove a prior offense. He claims his lawyer provided ineffective assistance of counsel and the Fourth District agrees.
The Felony Battery law enhances the charge if you have been convicted of Battery in the past. But the rules for prosecuting minors differ from the rules for prosecuting adults. Florida law doesn’t convict minors. It finds them delinquent. The statute even says that a delinquent act is not a conviction. Because a prior judge found T.E.B. delinquent, the Fourth District tosses out the conviction for the Felony Battery charges.
Read the T.E.B. v. State opinion here!
Talk to an Experienced Florida Criminal Defense Attorney!
The criminal defense firm Brown Legal PLLC operates from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but regularly handles cases throughout South Florida and the rest of the state. Before it’s too late, talk to Mr. Brown and see if he can help you! Reach out over the phone at (954) 524-6700 or through the Contact Page if you have any questions.