State v. Joseph

State v. Joseph

214 W. Va. 525, 590 S.E.2d 718 (2003)


:  Defendant was drinking way into the night with his two friends, one man and one woman.  At one point the woman stopped flirting with him and instead began flirting with the other, at which point he became angry and told the woman to leave his house.  She and the other man left the house together, and as they were leaving he fired two shots, neither hitting either individual.  After they left defendant stated her became concerned about the woman and went looking for her.  In searching for her he went to a Mr. Light’s home.  He then told defendant that he had driven the man and woman to the mouth of the hollow.  The two argued and slapped and defendant was hit in the side of the head and claimed to have seen “a blue flash.”  Upon seeing the flash, his hand landed on a pistol and he fired five shots into Mr. Light, killing him.  Defendant had previously been in an accident with injuries to the skull.

Procedural History:

Convicted at trial of first degree murder.  He argues that the trial court erred in not allowing testimony as to his diminished capacity.  He asserts diminished capacity resulting from his motorcycle accident.



“Diminished capacity defense is available… to permit a defendant to introduce expert testimony regarding a mental disease or defect that rendered the defendant incapable, at the time the crime was committed, of forming a mental state that is an element of the crime charged.”  It relinquished defendant from having the mens rea element of the crime.



Whether medical testimony should be excluded on the basis of the facts.


Yes, reversed and remanded.  This defense is asserted ordinarily when there is a lesser charge for which the defendant can be found guilty of because the defendant will not be guilty of a “particular crime charged,” but does not preclude a lesser offense.  Diminished capacity should not be understood as a defense. Evidence of diminished capacity is not a complete defense to a crime; it is neither a justification nor an excuse.  It only shows a lack of mens rea, which would make the defendant guilty of a lesser charge.  Diminished capacity can be the result of voluntary intoxication.  “A defendant who raises a diminished capacity defense … challenges his capacity to premeditate and deliberate at the time of the criminal act.”


The concept of diminished capacity is a burden of the state to establish those “elements of the crime charged requiring a conscious mental ingredient.”   The difference between insanity and diminished capacity is “that diminished capacity is legally applicable to disabilities not amounting to insanity, and its consequences, in homicide cases, operate to reduce the degree of the crime rather than excuse its commission.”

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