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United States v. Shashy

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

December 11, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MATTHEW ELLIOTT SHASHY

          OPINION

          MYRON H. THOMPSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendant Matthew Elliott Shashy fired three blasts of a shotgun into the ground at a busy intersection at the entrance to Maxwell Airforce Base in Montgomery, Alabama. Base employees were manning a guard shack within sight and sound of where he fired the weapon. He was indicted, and a jury found him gulty, of forcibly impeding, intimidating, or interfering with a member of the uniformed services while that person was engaged in official duties, and doing so with a deadly and dangerous weapon. See 18 U.S.C. § 111(a) & (b).

         Prior to trial, Shashy filed notice pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12.2(b) that, without asserting an insanity defense, he intended to introduce expert testimony “relating to a mental condition of the defendant bearing on the issue of guilt.” Notice (doc. no. 61). Specifically, he wished to have a psychologist testify to her opinion of his mental state at the time of the offense in an effort to prove that his intent in firing the weapon was other than the intent required for the offense. The government opposed admission of the evidence. After hearing the expert's proposed testimony outside the presence of the jury, the court excluded the evidence because the testimony did not negate the mens rea for the offense and because its probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of confusing or misleading the jury. The court issues this opinion to explain its reasoning more completely.

         I.

         Shashy sought to introduce expert testimony as to his mental state at the time of the offense in order to show that his intent was other than the intent required for conviction under the statute. The statute under which he was charged, 18 U.S.C. § 111, provides in part:

"(a) In general.--Whoever--
(1) forcibly assaults, resists, opposes, impedes, intimidates, or interferes with any person designated in section 1114 of this title while engaged in or on account of the performance of official duties; ...
shall, where the acts in violation of this section constitute only simple assault, be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both. ...
"(b) Enhanced penalty.--Whoever, in the commission of any acts described in subsection (a), uses a deadly or dangerous weapon ... shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both."

         The parties agreed that § 111 is a general-intent crime. See United States v. Ettinger, 344 F.3d 1149, 1155 (11th Cir. 2003). Therefore, § 111 “only requires the knowing commission of the act.” Id. at 1158. Put another way, “[i]n order to incur criminal liability under § 111, [Shashy] must ‘entertain merely the criminal intent to do the acts' specified in § 111, to forcibly assault, resist, oppose, impede, intimidate or interfere with a federal officer ‘while engaged in or on account of the performance of official duties.'” Id. at 1155 (quoting United States v. Feola, 420 U.S. 671, 686 (1974)).

         Shashy sought to introduce the testimony of a psychologist to show that, in firing his weapon, his intent was not to forcibly assault, resist, oppose, impede, intimate, or interfere with the airbase's employees, but instead was to call attention to the government's persecution of his family. The psychologist would have attested that he suffered from delusion of government persecution as a result of mental illness, and that he genuinely believed that he needed to call attention to the government's activity in order to protect his family.

         II.

         There are two relevant situations in which expert psychological evidence of the defendant's mental illness may be admitted: when the defendant raises the insanity defense, and when the defendant seeks to negate the mens rea the government is required to prove as an element of the charged offense.

         The insanity defense is an affirmative defense that presupposes that the government can prove all elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt, but relieves the defendant of responsibility for the offense on account of his mental illness. See United States v. Lawson, 459 F.Supp.2d 1192, 1195-96 (M.D. Ala. 2006) (Thompson, J.). Under the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984, 18 U.S.C. ยงยง 17, 4241-4247, a defendant may be found not guilty by reason of insanity only if, after the government proves all the elements of the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant proves by clear and convincing evidence ...


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