United States District Court, D. Vermont
DECISION ON MOTION OF THE UNITED STATES TO EXCLUDE
DEFENSE MENTAL HEALTH EVIDENCE AT THE ELIGIBILITY PHASE OF
ANY SENTENCING HEARING (DOC. 1518)
GEOFFREY W. CRAWFORD, CHIEF JUDGE
March 2017, the court granted the government's motion to
exclude testimony concerning Fell's mental state from the
guilt/innocence phase of the case. (Doc. 1281.) The defense
had proffered psychologist John Shields who testified that
Fell's mental state at the time of the alleged carjacking
and kidnapping offenses in Rutland was sufficiently impaired
that he could not form the requisite intent to commit either
capital offense. The court excluded the testimony under
Fed.R.Evid. 403 because "[t]he likelihood that a jury
will confuse the issue of why the defendant was unable to
stop himself from acting (impermissible) from his intent at
the time of the offense (allowed) is very high."
(Id. at 13.)
government has now filed a motion to exclude mental state
testimony from the eligibility phase of a potential penalty
trial. (Doc. 1518.) The defense has filed an opposition (Doc.
1592-1), and the government has filed a reply (Doc. 1611).
prevail on the issue of eligibility in this case, the
prosecution must persuade the jury beyond a reasonable doubt
that at least one of four factors are present:
• intentional killing of the victim;
• intentional infliction of serious bodily injury that
resulted in the death of the victim;
• intentional participation in an act, contemplating
that the life of a person would be taken or intending that
lethal force would be used in connection with a person, other
than one of the participants in the offense, and the victim
died as a direct result of the act; or
• intentional and specific engagement in an act of
violence, knowing that the act created a grave risk of death
to a person, other than one of the participants in the
offense, such that participation in the act constituted a
reckless disregard for human life and the victim died as a
direct result of the act.
28 U.S.C. § 3591(a)(2).
government has pled all four factors. (See Doc. 1223
at 1.) In its motion, citing Ring v. Arizona, 536
U.S. 584 (2002), the government argues that these factors are
the functional equivalent of elements of the offense. (Doc.
1518 at 3.) Thus, according to the government, mental health
evidence offered to rebut eligibility factors should be
analyzed as if offered to rebut guilt/innocence phase
elements. (Id.) As noted above, the court has
excluded Dr. Shields's testimony concerning Fell's
mental state from the guilt/innocence phase. The government
asserts that the court should apply 18 U.S.C. § 3593(c)
to reach the same result as to eligibility phase mental
defense objects on multiple grounds. (See Doc.
the court's perspective, the reference to Ring
is unhelpful. The eligibility factors function as the
equivalent of elements of the offense in the sense that they
require the jury to make specific findings about the
defendant's conduct and mental state. They also function
as the equivalent of elements of the offense for purposes of
Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), and the
right to a jury determination. But they are not the
same as the elements of the offense.
mental states for the offenses of carjacking and kidnapping
concern a defendant's intent and state of mind at the
time he seizes the vehicle or the victim. To this end, Dr.
Shields advanced his theory of a dissociative state, made
worse by drug use and brain damage, which impaired Fell's
ability to form a plan to harm the victim when she was taken
from the Price Chopper parking lot. The mental state required
by the eligibility factors is that Fell intentionally killed
the victim-hours later-or in other ways intentionally
participated in conduct resulting in her death. That is a
different mental state from mens rea at the time of
the charged offenses.
Dr. Shields-or someone else-has an opinion about this
separate and later-in-time mental state has not been
disclosed and will not be disclosed unless and until there is
a penalty trial and the defense confirms its intent to offer
mental state ...