In United States v. Turner, No. 20-12364 (Mar. 1, 2023) (Rosenbaum, Tjoflat, Moody), the Court affirmed the defendant’s felon in possession conviction.
At trial, the defendant raised an insanity defense. Over the defendant’s objection, the government’s expert psychologist who had evaluated the defendant testified that he was able to appreciate the nature and quality and wrongfulness of his acts. The Eleventh Circuit held that this testimony violated Rule 704(b) because it went to his mental state, which was an element of his insanity defense. However, the Court held that this error was harmless because, even though the district court instructed the jury on the insanity defense, the defendant’s lay testimony of insanity was insufficient as a matter of law to establish that he had a severe mental disease that caused his wrongful conduct, as required by the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984.
Judge Rosenbaum dissent, opining that the error was harmless. She emphasized that the majority usurped the role of the jury, the evidence was sufficient to instruct the jury, and the government failed to meet its burden to show that the Rule 704(b) error was harmless, as the insanity issue was important and close, the government intentionally elicited and emphasized the testimony, and there was no limiting instruction.