A person is guilty of murder in the state of Connecticut when such person:
- Intends to and does cause the death of another person.
- Causes the suicide of another by force, duress or deception.
It shall be an affirmative defense to the crime of murder if:
- A person committed the act of murder under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance.
What Constitutes an Extreme Emotional Disturbance?
An extreme emotional disturbance is a situation which gives rise to a reasonable explanation of the act. The reasonableness of the act gets determined from the viewpoint of a person in the defendant’s situation under the circumstances as the defendant believed them.
Things of note in extreme emotional disturbance and murder:
- The defendant, a lay person, or an expert can give testimony about the disturbance. 277 Conn. 281.
- Extreme emotional disturbance constitutes a subjective standard – that means it must get determined from the defendant’s point of view after considering the totality of the circumstances 60 Conn. App. 820.
- Although unusual when we consider our justice system, a defendant must prove that they acted under an extreme emotional disturbance 223 Conn. 273.
- The standard for this defense is a preponderance of the evidence.
What Does Not Constitute Extreme Emotional Disturbance?
A person is not free and clear if they establish an extreme emotional disturbance; it just means that person cannot get found guilty of murder as defined above. A person can still be found guilty of manslaughter in the first degree even if they establish that they have extreme emotional disturbance.
Another affirmative defense to the charge of murder is lack of capacity due to mental disease or defect. Evidence that a person suffered from a mental disease, defect or other mental abnormality is admissible in a prosecution of murder on the question of whether a person acted with an intent to cause the death of another.
Possible homicide defenses include: extreme emotional disturbance, mental disease, mental defect, duress, etc.
Lack of Capacity due to Mental Disease or Defect
- This is also known as an insanity plea.
- The burden of establishing an insanity plea is on the defendant 225 Conn. 450.
- It is not sufficient to simply suffer from a mental illness – a defendant must show proof that they could not distinguish right from wrong or that they could not control their conduct at the time the offense was committed 229 Conn. 328.
- With this type of insanity defense, a person will likely have to hire a mental health expert such as a doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist for trial.
Not Guilty by Reason of Lack of Capacity due to Mental Disease or Defect
Getting found not guilty due to mental disease or defect person does not mean that you can just get released from the custody of the state. If found guilty of a mental disease or defect, you face commitment in a mental health facility.
Another defense to the offense of murder as described above comes from the defense of duress. Duress is when 53a-14 (link):
- A person engages in an illegal act because that person get coerced by the use or threatened imminent use of physical force.
- The force can go against the accused or a third party.
- The duress used must have been sufficient enough to cause a reasonable person to not resist and commit the crime.
What Do You Need to Know About Duress?
- This defense is not available to those persons who intentionally or recklessly places themselves in a situation in which it is probable that they will be subjected to duress.
- If there is a reasonable, legal alternative to violating the law, a chance both to refuse to do the criminal act and also to avoid the threatened harm, the defense will fail 282 Conn. 281.
- Duress is both a subjective and objective defense.
The subjective portion asks the question whether the accused actually believed they faced danger.
The objective portion asks the question whether the accused’s belief and actions were reasonable Id.
- Courts and juries may not take an accused’s personal characteristics into account when determining a duress claim Id.
Something to consider in any prosecution is how voluntary intoxication could influence the outcome of trial for certain charges. The law of Connecticut recognizes voluntary intoxication in the following manner:
- It shall not be a defense to a criminal charge.
- However, in any prosecution for an offense evidence of intoxication may get offered wherever it is relevant to negate an element of a crime.
Important! Voluntary intoxication is not a defense. It is simply used to rebut or negate a certain piece of evidence that the state is required to prove at trial.
The possible penalties for a conviction under 53a-54a are extremely harsh:
- The mandatory minimum, or amount someone has to serve if convicted, is 25 years.
- The maximum possible penalty because of a conviction is life.
There are many defenses to a homicide charge in the state of Connecticut. Talk to a criminal defense attorney today to determine which defense fits your case!