Ohio Court of Appeals Affirms Murder Conviction of Defendant Arguing Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity

Above: Lake County Courthouse (link)

An Ohio appellate court affirmed Michael B. Davis’ convictions for multiple counts of felonious assault and murder and upheld his sentence. Davis assigned eight errors on appeal, including violation of his right to due process when the trial court limited the number of expert witnesses he could call to testify on his insanity defense.

In July of 2017, Davis attempted to commit suicide by veering into oncoming traffic, killing another driver and severely injuring a passenger. Davis testified that he had not slept for multiple days leading up to the crash and had been experiencing hallucinations.

Experts who had treated Davis in the past for major depression starting from a young age agreed that he suffered from a mental disease or defect. However, Davis’s insanity defense depended on whether he understood the wrongfulness of his actions despite his mental illness.

A psychologist testified for the defense that his mental state showed signs of “elements that could lead up to a psychotic episode or a psychotic break.” The defense also called an expert witness in pharmacology, who testified that the dosages of the medications Davis was given and their effects on neurotransmitters in the brain, made it highly likely that he was suffering from psychosis at the time of the crash.

Expert witnesses called by the state included a forensic psychologist, who concluded that Davis did suffer from major depressive disorder, but did not believe he was experiencing psychosis at the time of the crash. The psychologist further testified that even if Davis had been actively psychotic, he still could have understood the wrongfulness of his actions.

The court stated that Davis posed a great likelihood of recidivism due to his mental condition and history of repeated suicide attempts and that consecutive maximum sentences were warranted. Accordingly, the court decided that the assignments of error were without merit and affirmed his conviction and sentence.

Citation: Ohio v. Davis, 2021 WL 308513 (Ohio App. 11 Dist., 2021).

Key words: Ohio, mental health, expert testimony, brain chemistry, attempted murder, psychosis

This post is the 99th post as part of an ongoing Center for Law, Brain & Behavior (CLBB) series tracking the latest developments in law and neuroscience cases. To see previous posts about recent cases, see the full case archive on the CLBB website. To see updates on legal scholarship, see the Neurolaw News, hosted by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. This project is made possible through support of the Dana Foundation.

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