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Voluntary Intoxication and Its Role in the Defense of Criminal Responsibility in Massachusetts

The recent case of Commonwealth v. DiPadova in Massachusetts demonstrates how extremely important it is for an experienced Massachusetts and Boston criminal homicide attorney to deviate from proposing a model jury instruction when the facts of the case necessitate a change from what is customarily used.

In the DiPadova case, the Defendant was convicted of killing his former landlady. The Defendant had a substantial history of serious mental illness and had experienced auditory hallucinations (hearing voices). He also had a long history of poly substance abuse, including marijuana, cocaine and alcohol. The defense at trial was that the defendant due to a mental disease or defect, lacked the criminal responsibility for his actions because he lacked the substantial capacity at the time of the crime to appreciate both the wrongfulness of his conduct and to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. Commonwealth v. McHoul, 352 Mass. 544, 546-547 (1967).

There was evidence presented at trial of the interaction between the defendant’s abuse of legal and illegal drugs and his mental illness. It was no surprise that the mental health experts hired for both the defense and prosecution disagreed on the impact that the substance abuse had on the defendant’s mental state at the time of the homicide. The Defendant asserted that his drug use aggravated the symptoms of his mental illness. The court stated that the model instruction was erroneous because it only concerned the impact of drug consumption or alcohol use under circumstances in which a defendant’s mental disease or defect does not, independently, render him criminally irresponsible.

The court recognized that where a defendant’s substance abuse interacts with his mental illness, he is only criminally responsible if two conditions are present. It must be shown that the mental condition alone, prior to the ingestion of drugs did not make him criminally irresponsible for the crime. Finally, the defendant must have known or reasonably should have known that this ingestion of drugs would cause to become criminally irresponsible making him unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the law.

In this case the defense attorney decided not to object to the jury instruction at trial and the court had to apply an even more difficult appeal standard to determine if the error of the flawed jury instruction “created a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice.” Ultimately, the court decided in the defendant’s favor and ordered that he was entitled to a new trial.

This homicide case is very instructive and important because it highlights the law regarding lack of criminal responsibility exposes the need for an experienced homicide defense attorney to apply all his skill and diligence to every aspect of the case, including the jury instructions which may often make or break a case. The Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy understands the need for meticulous attention to detail in every case. Call Attorney Murphy today for a confidential legal consultation or complete the online contacts form on the website and Attorney Murphy will return your call promptly.