Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Will Vang use insanity defense?

Chai Vang made his first court appearance today, and the news account is pretty much stuff we already knew. Though there was one section that caught my eye.

Vang, who was represented by Milwaukee attorneys Jonathan Smith and Steve Kohn, said he understood the changes against him. Kohn said Vang is competent to understand today’s hearing and continue with the court proceedings. When asked if that meant Vang’s competence would become an issue at trial, Kohn said “there is a difference between legal competence and legal responsibility.”

If I may read between the lines here, I'd say that Vang's attorneys are going for an insanity plea.

UPDATE: More on the insanity defense and Wisconsin law in this article.

The bizarre case, which erupted after hunters confronted Vang on their land, has attracted widespread attention, and several Minnesota and Wisconsin defense attorneys said that their sense is that the defense's options in the case appear limited.

Vang's attorneys could pursue an insanity defense, a strategy based on diminished mental responsibility or - if the evidence supports it - self defense. But both options present problems.

A successful insanity defense under Wisconsin law would require jurors or the court to find the defendant suffered from "a mental disease or defect" and that he could not "tell right from wrong or conform his conduct to the requirements of the law," said Dick Lawson, a longtime defense attorney in Wausau, Wis.

Even if such a defense is offered, Lawson said, "it's a very difficult defense to sell. Juries don't buy it very often."

So far, there has been no evidence that Vang suffers from mental illness.

If attorneys employ a defense strategy of self-defense, Lawson and others said, they'll have to show that Vang believed that he was in imminent danger. That argument might be easier to make had Vang shot only one or two victims, rather than eight, attorneys said.

And this is interesting:

Although police said Vang waived his right to an attorney during the initial discussions, Butterfoss said attorneys will check to see if any of his constitutional rights were violated.

"If you can get some of the most damaging statements suppressed about his intent and chasing people down, maybe that helps a little bit," Butterfoss said. "But it doesn't exonerate him by any stretch."


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