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Capacity for Mens Rea

Case: Montana v. Egelhoff, 518 U.S. 37 (1996); [p. 256-257]

Facts: MO statute says that voluntary intoxication may not be taken into consideration in determining the
existence of a mental state which is an element of a criminal offense. Δ's intoxicated condition was not taken
into consideration, and he was convicted of "purposefully and knowingly" causing death. The MO Supreme
Court overturned because Δ's intoxicated condition was not allowed as a defense, and thus violated Δ's due
process right. Goes to Supreme Court.

Holding: Supreme Court reversed the state decision.

o O'Connor argued (4-justice plurality): excluding evidence relevant to the mental element of an offense
violates due process by presuming mens rea.
o Scalia argued (4-justice plurality): a state could exclude exculpatory evidence relevant to mens rea.
o Ginsburg (swing-vote)
• Due process issue - state legislature has the authority to identify the elements of the offense it
wants to punish, and to exclude evidence irrelevant to the crime it has defined.

Class Notes
• The legislature of Montana clearly intended to prohibit any evidence of intoxication when offered as a
defense in a criminal case. The issue for the court was whether this is constitutional - because
government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
o O'Connor - unconstitutional to prohibit evidence used to negate a mental state, if statute requires
mental state.
o Scalia - up to legislature to write rules of evidence. Ok to prohibit for policy reasons.
o Ginsburg - sides with O'Connor on constitutionality issues. But still, the statute is permissible.
Says it doesn’t create a due process problem because due process requires the government to
prove beyond a reasonable doubt all the elements of the defense. But who writes the statutes?
Legislature. The ban comes from same legislature that write the statutes. Legislature could just
go into the statute, and proscribe intoxication as a culpable mental state.
• It would be different if statute required a mental state, and just one court wouldn’t allow
the evidence admitted.
• Up to legislature to define the scope of criminal liability.