19 Apr

Criminal Defendants and the Attorney’s Responsibility to Advance Insanity

by in Criminal Defense

Jury Selection in the trial for Nathaniel Fujita, of Wayland, MA, began Monday, February 11, 2013. Mr. Fujita is charged with the 2011 murder of his former girlfriend, Lauren Astley. According to prosecutors, Fujita met Ms. Astley at his home on the night of July 3, 2011. They claim that he then killed her and dumped her body in a nearby marsh.

Attorney William Sullivan of Sullivan & Sweeney will be representing Mr. Fujita in his upcoming murder trial. According to Attorney Sullivan, the defense team has filed the requisite paperwork notifying the Commonwealth that the insanity defense may be utilized.

Insanity is a very interesting defense. Generally speaking, the prosecution does not have to prove that the defendant is sane. In a criminal trial, however, once the issue of insanity has been raised, the prosecution has the burden of proving the defendant’s sanity beyond a reasonable doubt. As a result, in addition to proving the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecution must prove sanity as well.

Although it seems like the prosecution is excessively burdened, the defense must still satisfy a number of elements to successfully assert an insanity defense. Massachusetts has accepted the Model Penal Code definition of insanity. The test states that a defendant is not responsible for criminal conduct “if at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect [a person] lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality of [their] conduct or to conform [their] conduct to the requirements of the law.”

In order to satisfy the above test, Attorney Sullivan will have to bring forth several expert witnesses to testify as to Mr. Fujita’s inability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct. In addition, Mr. Fujita will be the subject of several psychological exams. At the end of the day, the experts must assess whether they believe, with a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that Mr. Fujita was insane at the time he allegedly committed the crime for which he is accused.

I for one admire Attorney Sullivan’s decision to take a swing at insanity. The fact that the defense rarely relieves defendants of guilty verdicts is irrelevant. For me, it’s more about the fact that Attorney Sullivan was hired to do a job and that is exactly what he is doing.

By taking this position, I don’t mean to offend anyone. It is my belief that the guilty should be punished and punished accordingly. Mr. Fujita, however, has the constitutional right to defend himself. The beauty of our system is that should Attorney Sullivan fail in his attempt to prove insanity, the defense will be thrown out. With this said, his attempt tells me that he is doing his job. This, I believe, is something all criminal defense attorneys should commit to and strive for.