I am not referring here to those street corners that seem to attract more car accidents than others. The dangerous intersections at issue in this post are the vexing legal questions that arise when two laws intersect and seem to contradict each other.
An example just came out of the Supreme Court. The intersection involved, on one hand, the 5th Amendment’s right against self-incrimination, and on the other, the laws that permit the state to conduct a mental evaluation of a defendant who puts his capacity in question. (This is not limited to pleas of insanity, but includes all manners of reasons why one might not be able to form the required criminal intent, including intoxication.)
So criminal intent is put into question. The defendant can then be compelled to be examined by a therapist. But if the state tries to introduce the therapist’s report, is the defendant not being compelled to incriminate himself for all intents and purposes? After all, the therapist’s report is based on the defendant’s forced testimony. How does one navigate the intersection of our laws on criminal intent and the right against self-incrimination?
In cases such as the one just described, the mental evaluation may be introduced in evidence. But only in those rather limited cases. It is only when the defendant first puts his (or her) own mental state at issue that the state may then both compel his examination and introduce the result – in essence, to rebut the defendant’s claim of his inability to form the requisite criminal intent.
As the introduction of evidence is a very frequent ground for appeals, part of the appellate lawyer’s role is to sail those waters with knowledge and skill – to know what could indeed come in, and what was admitted in error in the heat of trial.