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The Diminished Capacity Defense

feldman_amy Amy Feldman
Amy E. Feldman is a business commentator and legal business...
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By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Why would someone on trial for committing a crime want to argue that he was drunk when he did it? That sounds like two bits of bad judgment, but it can be a defense under the law.

A Dubuque man, on trial for first-degree murder after shooting his wife’s paramour, tried to argue that he couldn’t have formed the intent to kill because he was drunk when he pulled the trigger. And surprisingly, that’s not a bad defense.

The law recognizes that while someone may not be suffering from a mental defect like mental illness that would exonerate him from being convicted of any crime, a perpetrator may have mental capacity that was diminished at the time he committed a crime by alcohol or drug use.

The diminished capacity defense can be used both to determine whether someone had the mental capacity to commit the particular crime – and can also be used once the person is convicted to show the defendant should receive a reduced penalty. It seems strange to some that the way to get out of a harsh penalty is by arguing that before a defendant committed a crime he got himself good and drunk, just wasn’t thinking straight and didn’t mean it.

The Dubuque man’s jury didn’t buy his defense and found him guilty and this month, the appeals court upheld his conviction. What would you decide if you were the judge on that one?

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