The PA Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Terrence Patrick Andrews, No. 914 WDA 2016 (April 7, 2017), holding that a defendant need not assert an insanity defense before entering a plea of guilty but mentally ill.

Andrews was charged with criminal homicide and burglary. He was tried by a jury during which time he offered a diminished capacity defense, presenting expert testimony that he lacked the ability to form the specific intent to kill. Andrews’s counsel attempted to ask the expert whether Andrews’s mental illness interfered with his “ability to conform his behavior to the law.” Andrews’s counsel explained that the testimony was relevant to the issue whether Andrews was guilty but mentally ill. The Commonwealth objected, arguing that the jury could not return a verdict of guilty but mentally ill because Andrews had not offered an insanity defense. The trial court sustained the objection. Andrews’s counsel later requested a jury instruction regarding the verdict of guilty but mentally ill, which was denied for the same reason.

At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found Andrews guilty of first-degree murder and burglary. After the verdict was announced, Andrews’s counsel moved to have the verdict molded to guilty but mentally ill and that motion was denied. The trial court imposed a sentence of life imprisonment for first-degree murder and a consecutive term of five to ten years’ incarceration for burglary. That sentence was affirmed by the Superior Court and Andrews’s petition for allowance of an appeal to the PA Supreme Court was denied.

Andrews subsequently filed a Post Conviction (PCRA) petition claiming that trial counsel gave ineffective assistance when she failed to advise Andrews to plead guilty but mentally ill to the charge of homicide. Specifically, Andrews contended that had he entered a plea of guilty but mentally ill (rather than unsuccessfully pleading not guilty and going to trial on a diminished capacity defense), he would have been entitled to psychiatric treatment while serving his life sentence after conviction.


The PCRA court, without citing any authority in support of its reasoning, concluded that Andrews was not entitled to plead guilty but mentally ill because he did not present an insanity defense at trial. The Commonwealth made the same argument, relying on PA’s Guilty but Mentally Ill (“GBMI”) statute.


Section (a) of the GBMI statute provides the general rule that “a person who timely offers a defense of insanity in accordance with the Rules of Criminal Procedure may be found ‘guilty but mentally ill’ at trial if the trier of facts finds, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the person is guilty of an offense, was mentally ill at the time of the commission of the offense and was not legally insane at the time of the commission of the offense.” However, Section (b) of that statute, entitled “Plea of guilty but mentally ill” provides that “a person who waives his right to trial may plead guilty but mentally ill. No plea of guilty but mentally ill may be accepted by the trial judge until he has examined all reports prepared pursuant to the Rules of Criminal Procedure, has held a hearing on the sole issue of the defendant’s mental illness at which either party may present evidence and is satisfied that the defendant was mentally ill at the time of the offense to which the plea is entered. If the trial judge refuses to accept a plea of guilty but mentally ill, the defendant shall be permitted to withdraw his plea. A defendant whose plea is not accepted by the court shall be entitled to a jury trial, except that if a defendant subsequently waives his right to a jury trial, the judge who presided at the hearing on mental illness shall not preside at the trial.”

In analyzing the statute at issue, the Superior Court explained that, under Section (a), if a defendant wishes to plead not guilty on the basis of his mental illness, he must claim to have been legally insane when he committed the crime. Then, if the fact-finder agrees that the defendant was insane, it will find the defendant not guilty on the basis of that defense. However, if the fact-finder concludes that the defendant committed the crime while he was mentally ill but not insane, it may not acquit him on the basis of the mental illness; instead, it may find the defendant “guilty but mentally ill.”

In claiming that he should have been advised to plead guilty but mentally ill, Andrews did not rely on Section (a). Instead, he relied on Section (b), which, by its precise terms, specifically authorizes a defendant to “waive[] his right to trial” and “plead guilty but mentally ill.” Section (b) does not condition the ability to plead guilty but mentally ill on the assertion of an insanity defense. In other words, statute authorizes a plea of guilty but mentally ill by a person who does not claim to be insane.

The Superior Court concluded that a defendant need not assert an insanity defense under the statute before entering a plea of guilty but mentally ill. Accordingly, the PCRA court erred by dismissing Andrews’s claim on the ground that he did not assert such a defense.

Finally, the Superior Court outlined what will need to occur on remand for Andrews to be successful in his claim. Specifically, Andrews will have to establish all three elements of an ineffective assistance claim. Therefore, since he contends that he should have been advised to plead guilty but mentally ill, these requirements will include proof that he would have been able to satisfy the trial court that (1) he was mentally ill at the time of the offense to which the plea is entered; (2) that the Commonwealth would have agreed to a guilty but mentally ill plea; and, (3) that the trial court would have accepted a guilty plea on those terms.


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