Thursday, October 15, 2009
C.A.: Failure to Allow Insanity Plea Harmless Error
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Placer county man who claimed a little green person encouraged him to don a black ski mask and take a sawed-off shotgun to rob a random business after he played a marathon session of a Grand Theft Auto video game should have been allowed to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
The panel said Jaisen Henning had a right to enter the plea of his choice over the objection of his counsel, explaining that Placer Superior Court Judge Charles D. Wachob erred by disallowing Henning’s plea and declining to substitute Henning’s appointed counsel.
However, the appellate court affirmed Henning’s conviction and sentence, concluding that the insanity defense was “doomed” and so the errors were harmless.
Henning said he spent a week in July 2007 without any sleep due to his use of a combination of crystal methamphetamine, alcohol, ecstasy, crack cocaine and hallucinogenic mushrooms, and began hallucinating after playing 10 hours of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
The graphic video game requires players to complete “missions,” such as murder, drive-by shootings, burglaries and other violent crimes.
Henning later walked in to the Rocklin Days Inn lobby wearing a black ski mask and gloves, and carrying a sawed-off shotgun. He then confronted two men, demanding their wallets.
One offered Henning the $2 his wallet contained, but Henning, who noticed his unattended car was rolling down the hotel’s inclined driveway, ran out the door without taking the money.
An off-duty sheriff’s detective who happened to drive by the hotel said he saw Henning run out of the lobby and get into the car, still wearing a mask and holding a shotgun. The deputy called a dispatcher and police officers engaged in pursuit.
Henning was apprehended after a high-speed chase and officers found a backpack containing a shotgun in his car.
In July 2008, the Placer County District Attorney filed an amended information charging Henning with burglary, two counts of attempted robbery, two counts of assault with a firearm, evading a police officer and possession of a sawed-off shotgun.
Henning moved to substitute his appointed attorney based on his dissatisfaction with counsel’s objection to his entry of an insanity plea, and later sought to remove replacement counsel. He again asserted his desire to enter an insanity plea, but counsel asserted there was “absolutely no basis on which to run an NGI defense.”
Finding that Henning was receiving full and complete representation, the trial court declined Henning’s second substitution motion and Henning entered a not-guilty plea.
A jury convicted him on all counts and Henning was sentenced to an aggregate prison term of 17 years and four months.
Writing for the appellate court, Justice Rick Sims explained that a defendant has the statutory right to enter the plea of his choosing pursuant to People v. Medina (1990) 51 Cal.3d 870, which held that a defendant cannot be compelled by counsel to present an insanity defense, or to abandon one because counsel disagrees with the tactics of that decision.
Sims added that counsel should have been substituted when the trial court learned of counsel’s disagreement with Henning’s desired plea. However he concluded that the errors were harmless since defense counsel could not be required to mount a defense “entirely lacking in credible support.”
The justice suggested that the circumstances of Henning’s crimes indicated “intentional strategic thinking rather than insanity” since he took efforts to conceal his identify and preclude identification by using the ski mask, gloves and duct tape on his license plate.
Henning’s attempt to conceal his shotgun inside his backpack while trying to evade the police further indicated he was aware of the wrongfulness of his attempted robbery, Sims said.
Sims also emphasized defense counsel’s “vigorous efforts to muster evidence for an insanity defense” by consulting four independent experts, all of whom concluded Henning was not insane at the time of the offenses.
As the record contained no evidence of a mental defect or other condition rendering Henning unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct at the time of his crimes aside from his non-exculpatory drug use, Sims posited that an “insanity defense would have been futile.”
Justices Cole Blease and Ronald B. Robie joined Sims in his decision.
The case is People v. Henning, 09 S.O.S. 5993.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company