story from this morning's Cincinnati Enquirer:
Stacy Schuler, who faces 19 charges, changed her plea from "not guilty" to "not guilty by reason of insanity." The change in plea, filed in a one-line document Monday, left Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell scratching his head Tuesday.
"It’s certainly an interesting development," Fornshell said, noting Schuler previously denied the incidents happened and now, in essence, is admitting they occurred but says she should not be held legally responsible.
Schuler’s lawyer, Charlie H. Rittgers, declined to discuss why he changed the plea on behalf of Schuler, 33, of Springboro. The so-called insanity defense is highly unusual and rarely succeeds, experts say, although there’s typically some basis for it when it is attempted.
"Generally, when I’ve seen these pleas, there’s something behind this – it tells me something came up that’s cause for concern," said Akron lawyer Carmen Roberto, past president of the Ohio State Bar Association. During his 38-year law career, Roberto estimated he had seen fewer than 10 such pleas amid thousands of cases as both a defense lawyer and prosecutor.
As of 2002, only about 2 percent of all suspects pursued an insanity defense -- and only about one-third of them secure an acquittal for mental-health reasons, Rita J. Simon, a professor of public affairs and law at American University in Washington, D.C., told the Enquirer previously.
Under Ohio law, Rittgers must show "by a preponderance (majority) of the evidence" that his client suffered a mental problem that blocked her ability to understand right versus wrong. By filing the insanity plea, Rittgers opened the door for Schuler to possibly undergo three separate mental evaluations. The defense, prosecutor and judge may each request a separate one.
Attorney Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a Sacramento-based organization that advocates "swift and certain punishment" of convicted criminals, said "most people are skeptical and reasonably so," when they hear of an insanity plea being filed. The insanity plea may be a "last-ditch argument" by a desperate defendant, he said.
But Simon has said that insanity pleas tend to draw a lot of attention, leading to a misperception that they are more common than they actually are.
Fornshell said the case is his first involving an insanity plea since he was appointed county prosecutor in February. He said Judge Robert Peeler could take some action related to the plea when the case heads to its next hearing July 21 in Common Pleas Court in Lebanon.
Schuler, who resigned from her job, is set for trial Aug. 8. She’s accused of 16 counts of sexual battery, which allege she had sexual contact with boys, plus three counts of providing alcohol to minors. The sex charges carry up to five years in prison if she’s convicted; each alcohol charge is punishable by six months in jail.
Schuler was released in February from the Warren County Jail on her promise to appear in court. Schuler’s location is being electronically monitored, officials said.
This is an interesting article for several reasons: an interesting, um provocative underlying story; an interesting legal defense; interesting comment from legal experts; and, a local reporter trying to convey something about the situation that actually conveys something informative. I particularly liked when the reporter offered a parenthetical explanation of the burden of proof for an insanity defense. What Ms. Morse meant was that in pleading "insanity" the burden of proof shifts to the defendant to prove her lack of capacity by a "preponderance of evidence," as opposed to a normal "not guilty" plea in which the prosecution must prove all elements of the charged offenses "beyond a reasonable doubt."
But the story really caused me to think about "capacity" and my own changing view. You might say I am uniquely qualified.
This blawg has several running themes not the least of which is the role of alcoholism and impairment. You don't have to follow this blawg for long to see many examples of profoundly impaired people from all walks of life doing inexplicable, judgment-impaired acts of near-insanity (or complete insanity) often with tragic results. I also recognize that real time "insanity" attributable to active alcoholism is not the same thing as a valid defense of "insanity." But personally, I can't think of a clearer example.
Would I even bother talking about this if we were talking about a male school teacher drinking and getting all touchy, feely with female high school students? Probably not. I confess, I would probably say, "throw the book at him." And yet, I genuinely think our paradigms for legal responsibility are not terribly nuanced. This is largely because we insist on calling the defense of capacity: "insanity." What the hell is that?
In fact, we really don't mean insanity. "Insanity" is not like "cancer" or "AIDS" or any condition which can be objectively diagnosed. You'll look in vain for a definition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychological Association. There are no diagnostic criteria to say for instance: x + y = Insanity; although, remarkably MRI studies do demonstrate "changes" in the brains of alcoholics and addicts. And yet the term, insanity, is tossed around in court as if there is some sort of objective standard or quantifiable status. The reality is that "insanity" is a legal conclusion, the outcome of some sort of legal sausage-making. We mean when we say someonw is "insane" that certain charged criminal acts lacked mens rea therefore the defendant is not criminally responsible.
If the evidence shows that Stacy Schuler suffers from alcoholism and that her actions with her students were causally-related to her use and abuse of alcohol should she be forgiven, no. (But, would you forgive her if her actions were related to dementia caused by medications taken to treat a serious medical condition?) Should Stacy be helped, yes. I don't find anything ridiculous or absurd about Stacy Schuler's change of plea. We'll see how it works out.