Privilege against Self-Incrimination Waived in Second Trial When Defendant Presented Mental Capacity Defense at First Trial

Developments in Mental Health Law, May 2012 | Go to article overview

Privilege against Self-Incrimination Waived in Second Trial When Defendant Presented Mental Capacity Defense at First Trial


The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has upheld the decision of the Superior Court that a defendant who voluntarily waived his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination by presenting a mental capacity defense at his first trial opened the door to the Commonwealth's introduction of inculpatory statements at retrial, even though the defendant did not utilize the defense at his retrial. Commonwealth v. Rosen, 2012 Pa. LEXIS 965 (April 25, 2012).

The defendant was charged with first degree murder in the stabbing death of his wife and sentenced to life in prison. The defendant's wife had been stabbed to death in the early morning hours of June 30, 2001. The defendant initially claimed that two intruders in ski masks and parkas committed the murder. He later gave multiple explanations for the murder and ultimately admitted killing his wife, stating they were arguing and each had a knife. He said his wife swung the knife at him, he stabbed her in the chest, and she then plunged the knife into her own neck. At his jury trial in 2002, the defendant relied on the defense of diminished capacity. His expert psychiatrist testified that the defendant suffered from manic-depressive illness accompanied by psychotic features and paranoia. He testified that the defendant was psychotic and incapable of forming the intent to kill his wife. The Commonwealth's expert testified that the defendant had no mental disorder that would impair his capacity to form intent to kill his wife, relying on the fact that the wife planned to divorce him, that he delayed an hour in calling police and that he initially fabricated events. The jury convicted the defendant of first degree murder and the trial court sentence him to life in prison. The Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld the conviction and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declined review.

The defendant then filed a post-conviction petition for relief alleging ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to call character witnesses that would have established that his mental instability prompted his actions and that he neither planned nor intended to kill his wife. …

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