Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Orders New Trial in Murder Case

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today reversed the conviction of Joann Silech-Brodeur, who was convicted of the Murder of her 70 year-old husband by stabbing him to death 34 times.

At issue in Silech-Brodeur’s Criminal Appeal was whether, in establishing her Insanity Defense, the defense was obligated to give prosecutors copies of the detailed notes and statements Silech-Brodeur made to her defense psychiatric expert. She claimed that she was suffering mental problems at the time that were exacerbated by her husband’s intent to divorce her. The defense psychologist testified at the trial that, during her examinations, Silech-Brodeur claimed she did not recall stabbing her husband and that the lost her sense of sight and sound during the struggle.

The trial judge, over the defendant’s objection, ordered production of the defense psychologist’s notes to be produced to the prosecution’s own expert. This, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held, went beyond the discovery limitations in Insanity Cases. The Court specifically held that “when a defendant serves notice that she will call an expert witness to testify about her mental condition at the time of the crime based on her testimonial statements, the rule only authorizes a court-ordered psychiatric examination of the defendant by the Commonwealth’s expert, and nothing more.”

Notwithstanding its ruling, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court cited a trend toward mutual discovery and recommended that the Advisory Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure review the issue and perhaps propose an amendment that might require a defendant’s expert to give notice of the expert’s opinion, as well as the bases for that opinion.

Click here to read the full Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s opinion in Commonwealth v. Silech-Brodeur.

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