A twenty-five year old Woburn, Massachusetts man is being charged in Essex County for a stabbing incident that occurred yesterday morning. According to reports Timothy Wells slashed a Salem State College student on a shuttle bus and then stabbed the bus driver who came to the female victim’s defense. Wells fled the scene and was apprehended in New York earlier today. Wells, a senior at Salem State was found in possession of a knife a few weeks ago however no charges were filed. Wells, a senior at Salem State has been charged with Assault and Battery by Means of a Dangerous Weapon and Attempted Murder. It has been reported that Wells informed campus police about his concerns about his state of mind.
The facts of this case clearly suggest that Wells’ lawyer investigate the viability of a mental health defense. The most commonly used mental health defense in Massachusetts is the defense of lack of criminal responsibility. Lay people often refer to this defense as the insanity defense. If a jury finds that some lacked criminal responsibility at the time of the commission of the crime it cannot convict the person of that crime. It is the burden of the government to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the person was sane when he committed the offense. To succeed with this defense there must be evidence that the defendant had a mental condition that rendered him unable to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. It is advisable that anyone employing this defense have an expert evaluate him and be prepared to testify at trial to the condition of the accused and its effect on his or her ability to behave properly.
The defendant is also entitled to have the jury instructed that an acquittal by reasons of insanity does not automatically permit the person to go free. Rather, the jury can, upon request be instructed that its decision to find the defendant not guilty will likely require hospitalization in a secure mental health facility and that he will not be released unless and until a judge finds that he is no longer mentally ill and dangerous. Voluntary intoxication and drug abuse can be factored into this analysis in certain circumstances.
Here, Wells’ condition was known to campus police prior to the incident. It would not surprise me to learn that he had a document mental health condition or that he was prescribed medication for his problems. In that case, the defense is what I call a real one; i.e. not something concocted in the absence of an explanation for Wells’ behavior. Mental health defenses rarely convince juries. They do however often convince prosecutors and judges that the accused should be acquitted and treated for his problems.