Frendak v. United States

The Facts/Procedural History

Defendant shot and killed her co-worker.  After the shooting, defendant fled to Mexico and later Europe.  She was later captured and as part of trial proceedings underwent four psychiatric evaluations.  The result was that the court determined her to suffer from a personality disorder, was able to cooperate with counsel, understood the case against her, and was therefore able to stand trial.

Guilty at trial of first-degree murder.  The court decided over defendant’s objections to hold a second insanity defense phase of the trial, where the jury found her insane and not guilty.  At trial the testifying psychiatrist stated, “she had been suffering from a mental illness which impaired her behavioral controls to such an extent that she could not appreciate the wrongfulness of her conduct and could not conform her conduct to the requirements of the law.”  He testified that there was some causal connection between the disorder and her act of murder but could not “discover the cause and effect relationship.”  Another doctor testified that she understood the consequences of her decision an dnot to raise the insanity defense. Defendant appeals on the basis that the court did not have authority to begin the second phase where she had not requested it.


The Whalem Rule:  “When there is sufficient question as to the defendant’s mental responsibility at the time of the crime, that issue must become part of the case … In the pursuit of justice, a trial judge must have the discretion to impose an unwanted defense on a defendant…”

The Issue

Whether an insanity defense can be raised by the court with the defendant’s objections.

The Holding

Yes.  “The trial judge may not force an insanity defense on a defendant found competent to stand trial if the individual intelligently and voluntarily decides to forego that defense.”  A defendant may want to be found guilty of murder instead of not by reason of insanity out of fear of institutionalization for a period longer than a jail sentence or he may object to the quality of treatment or type of facility he’d be assigned to.  Hospitalization can interfere with privacy in a way that jail does not.  Moreover, the defendant may wish to avoid the stigma of insanity.  Also, there are legal consequences of an insanity acquittal, in that a person in some states may lose voting and other legal rights.

“… these reasons substantially outweigh the express purpose of the Whalem rule.”  “Because the defendant must bear the ultimate consequences of any decision, we conclude that if a defendant has acted intelligently and voluntarily, a trial court must defer to his or her decision to waive the insanity defense.”  When the defendant does not have the capacity to reject the insanity defense, however, the court can impose the defense.  It is critical that the trial court verify that defendant “knows what he is doing and his choice is made with eyes open.”

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