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Criminal Practice – Murder – Insanity Plea – Closing Arguments – Possible Release

State v. Dalton (Lawyers Weekly No. 15-07-0886, 20 pp.) (Donna Stroud, J.) Appealed from Transylvania County Superior Court (Marvin Pope Jr., J.) N.C. App.

Holding: Where the evidence indicated that defendant would suffer from bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder for the rest of her life, it is highly unlikely that, after 50 days, defendant could show that she was no longer mentally ill. Defendant’s commission of a homicide is “prima facie evidence of dangerousness to others,” G.S. § 122C-3(11)(b). Therefore, the prosecutor’s argument – that, if defendant were found not guilty by reason of insanity, it was “very possible” that she could be released from civil commitment in 50 days – goes beyond the facts in evidence and all reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom. Therefore, the argument was improper.

Defendant is awarded a new trial.

Defendant has shown that she was prejudiced by the prosecutor’s closing argument. Given the brutality of defendant’s attack, it is likely that the prosecutor’s statements about the likelihood of defendant’s release in 50 days alarmed jurors and motivated them to render a guilty verdict.

The evidence raised no dispute that defendant committed serious and extremely violent crimes, and there was no real dispute that defendant suffered from longstanding psychiatric and substance abuse problems. The only real question presented to the jury was whether defendant would spend the rest of her life in prison or be committed to a psychiatric facility. It is difficult to imagine any reasonable juror accepting defendant’s argument of insanity if that might result in her “very possible” release in only 50 days.

Defendant presented abundant evidence supporting an inference that she was insane, and the state presented no evidence to the contrary, other than its cross- examination of defendant’s expert witnesses. No evidence supported the state’s argument about defendant’s “very possible” release in less than two months.

Therefore, a reasonable possibility exists that a different result would have been reached had the error not occurred; thus, the prosecutor’s improper argument prejudiced defendant.

New trial.

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