Trial court’s failure to add “delusion” to jury instructions regarding the effect of hallucinations on defendant’s ability to premeditate and deliberate was not error. Defendant pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity to killing her three-year-old twin daughters. She claimed she suffered from delusional beliefs that killing the children was the only way to save them from being kidnapped and enslaved. In the guilt phase she was found guilty of two counts of first degree murder with special circumstances. In the sanity phase of the trial, the jury found the defendant sane at the time of the killings. On appeal she argued the trial court erred by failing to add “delusions” to the jury instruction regarding the effect of hallucinations on the formation of premeditation and deliberation. Held: Affirmed. The trial court instructed the jury with CALCRIM No. 627, regarding the nature of a hallucination, which allowed the jury to consider evidence of hallucinations in deciding whether defendant premeditated the killings. Defendant relied on the theory that her delusional beliefs negated the formation of premeditation and deliberation, and argued that the trial court should have modified the instruction to include delusions. However, instructions regarding the effect of a defendant’s mental disorder on her mental state at the time of the crime need be given only on request where supported by the evidence; it is counsel’s duty to request modifications of such instructions where needed. No such request was made here, so the issue is forfeited on appeal. Further, the record reflects that defense counsel understood the term “hallucination” to encompass defendant’s delusional belief system and the trial court accepted this characterization for purposes of jury instructions. “There is no reasonable possibility that the jury interpreted the instruction to preclude it from considering defendant’s delusions.”
Substantial evidence supported the sanity verdict. Defendant argued the evidence was insufficient to support the jury’s sanity verdict. In the sanity phase of a criminal trial the defendant has the burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that she was incapable of understanding the nature and quality of her act and of distinguishing right from wrong at the time of the commission of the offense. Each of the experts in defendant’s trial concluded she was not able to understand that her actions were legally or morally wrong. However, expert opinion is not binding on the trier of fact. There was also evidence of defendant’s long term drug use and the jury was instructed that a defendant may not be found insane solely on the basis of addiction to, or abuse of, intoxicating substances. The jury could have reasonably rejected the expert opinions of defendant’s mental state based on the drug use evidence. Further, there was evidence from which the jury could have concluded that defendant knew the nature and quality of her acts and that her actions were legally and morally wrong.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/A136822.PDF