Defendant Who Received Direct Command from God to Murder Is Unsuccessful in Raising Deific Decree Defense Because the Command Did Not Overcome His Cognitive Ability to Tell Right from Wrong

Developments in Mental Health Law, January 2005 | Go to article overview

Defendant Who Received Direct Command from God to Murder Is Unsuccessful in Raising Deific Decree Defense Because the Command Did Not Overcome His Cognitive Ability to Tell Right from Wrong


Most states offer an insanity defense to defendants accused of committing a crime, although the nature of that defense varies somewhat from state to state. The State of Washington has adopted the M'Naghten test and will find a defendant legally insane if the defendant can establish that as a result of mental disease or defect the defendant was unable to perceive the nature and quality of the act or was unable to tell the difference between right and wrong with respect to the particular act charged.

In addition, Washington has recognized what is known as a "deific decree" exception, which allows a defendant to establish insanity if the defendant knew the criminal act was wrong but believed, as a result of mental defect, that God commanded the act.

An individual, who organized a religious group known as "the Gatekeepers" and claims he regularly receives messages from God, killed a former member of the group after he allegedly was told by God to kill the man. In preparation for the murder, he and another member of the group obtained camouflage clothing, wiped fingerprints off shell casings they planned to use, and drove from California to Washington. The victim was shot when he responded to a knock on the door of his home. The defendant confessed to the crime but asserted the insanity defense, arguing that God commanded him to murder the man. A jury rejected the defense and convicted him of first degree murder.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the jury instructions had improperly stated the deific decree defense because they did not define wrongfulness in terms of a moral wrong as opposed to a legal wrong. The Washington Court of Appeals dismissed this argument, citing State v. …

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