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Name: People v. McGehee
Case #: C073027
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 04/26/2016

Trial court committed harmless error by failing to instruct jury that defendant’s mental illness should be taken into account when determining whether his false statements evidenced a consciousness of guilt. McGehee stabbed his mother 10 times and then lied to his sister to keep her from finding the body. The defense argued that McGehee suffered from schizophrenic delusions involving demons and that he killed his mother during such an episode. The jury was instructed that if MGehee made any false or misleading statements related to the crime, that conduct may show consciousness of guilt. (CALCRIM No. 362.) The jury was also instructed that it could not use evidence of his mental illness for any purpose other than to decide if he possessed the required mental state for murder. (CALCRIM No. 3428.) McGehee was convicted of second degree murder. On appeal, he argued that the trial court erred by instructing the jury with both CALCRIM Nos. 362 and 3428, and that the court should have modified CALCRIM No. 3428 to allow the jury to consider evidence of his mental disturbance in determining whether his false statements to his sister reflected consciousness of guilt. Held: Affirmed. In People v. Wiidanen (2011) 201 Cal.App.4th 526, the court held that the jury should have been allowed to consider the defendant’s voluntary intoxication when determining whether false statements he made were knowingly false and therefore evidence of consciousness of guilt. The same logic applies to evidence of mental illness. “Like intoxication, mental illness or impairment has obvious relevance to the question of ability to perceive or recall events.” The jury should have been allowed to consider this evidence for purposes of assessing consciousness of guilt. However, the error does not require reversal because a more favorable result was not reasonably probable absent the error.

Trial court did not err by failing to instruct the jury, sua sponte, that involuntary manslaughter was a lesser included offense to murder. Evidence of mental illness can negate the existence of malice aforethought. “Thus, in a murder case, instructions on involuntary manslaughter are required where there is substantial evidence that may come in the form of evidence of the defendant’s mental illness, raising a question as to whether or not that defendant actually formed the intent to kill.” McGehee argued an involuntary manslaughter instruction was appropriate here because the evidence showed he killed his mother because he believed she was a demon and therefore did not act with the requisite intent to kill a human being. In People v. Elmore (20 14) 59 Cal.4th 121, the court rejected a similar argument and held that similar evidence did not require an instruction on imperfect self-defense voluntary manslaughter. Instead, such evidence was appropriate solely on the issue of defendant’s sanity: “[E]vidence that ‘purely delusional perceptions caused the defendant to believe in the necessity of self-defense’ may be presented only during the sanity phase of the trial.” (Id. at p. 146.) Based on Elmore, the Court of Appeal concluded that McGehee’s argument—that he was entitled to involuntary manslaughter instructions based on evidence that he hallucinated an attack by a demon, and therefore did not intend to kill a human being, but instead intended to kill a demon—is “quintessentially a claim of insanity” that must be made during the sanity phase of the trial, not the guilt phase.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: