An Illinois combat veteran recently shot another driver. The veteran claims that he shot the victim because of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by his combat role as a former convoy rear gunner in the Iraq War. The Illinois trial court determined that the veteran was not acting in self-defense due to his PTSD. Illinois’ 1st District Appellate Court affirmed the decision of the trial court.
The veteran’s recent criminal trial bring to light the issue of a defendant's ability to legally invoke PTSD as a defense to a crime.
The Defendant Veteran Faces a Conviction of First Degree Murder
The veteran fired several gunshots at another vehicle in 2012. Subsequently, the state of Illinois charged him with attempted first-degree murder, aggravated discharge of a firearm, and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon. The defendant argued that he used justified force in defending himself.
The Trial Judge Did Not Allow a Psychiatrist to Testify During the Trial
The trial judge ruled that the defendant did suffer from PTSD. Nonetheless, the judge declined to allow a psychiatrist to provide expert testimony as to whether PTSD caused him to fire the shots at another car. The defendant attempted to submit evidence in the form of expert medical testimony demonstrating the extent to which PTSD affected him. His expert witnesses would purportedly state that the defendant suffered from combat-related PTSD at the time of the shooting.
The trial judge allowed expert testimony as to the defendant’s combat-related PTSD. However, the trial judge explicitly prohibited the witness from stating that “it was the [PTSD] that caused [defendant] to act this way” because the jury or trier of fact must make that determination.
The Appellate Court Affirmed the Trial Court’s Decision
After the jury convicted the defendant, the defendant appealed the decisions.
In the appeal, the defendant argued that the judge made the following three errors:
- The judge prevented his witness from testifying as to whether or not the PTSD caused him to arm himself and fire a gun at the victim’s vehicle
- The court erred in failing to use an expert’s opinion as to whether his conduct was consistent with his combat-related PTSD
- The court erred in failing to consider evidence that the defendant believed himself to be in imminent danger during the altercation
The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s decision, holding that the defendant's state of mind at the time of the crime should be determined by the trier of fact. As to the defendant’s self-defense claim, the Appellate Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling because Illinois does not recognize a diminished capacity defense. The Court also pointed out that the defendant was the initial aggressor, making a self-defense claim untenable.
If you are a veteran who suffers from PTSD and you are facing a criminal charge, the skilled criminal defense attorneys at Glasgow & Olsson can help. Contact our Cook County criminal defense law firm today to schedule your initial consultation.
(image courtesy of Holly Mindrup)