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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. MICHAEL NICKLES WALZACK (07/06/76)

decided: July 6, 1976.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
MICHAEL NICKLES WALZACK, APPELLANT



COUNSEL

Robert C. Lear, Public Defender, Stroudsburg, Michael J. Wetmore, Tannersville, for appellant.

James F. Marsh, Dist. Atty., C. Daniel Higgins, Asst. Dist. Atty., Stroudsburg, for appellee.

Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Eagen, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which O'Brien, J., joins.

Author: Nix

[ 468 Pa. Page 212]

OPINION OF THE COURT

Today we must decide whether psychiatric evidence is admissible to be evaluated by the jury when an accused offers it to negate the element of specific intent required for a conviction of murder of the first degree thereby reducing the crime to murder of the second degree.*fn1 We

[ 468 Pa. Page 213]

    are persuaded by the vast weight of authority that psychiatric evidence should be admissible for this purpose and, therefore, we hold that the learned court below erred in excluding the proffered testimony from the jury's consideration.*fn2

Prior to analyzing the specific facts of this case, it is necessary to clarify what we do not decide in today's opinion. First, appellant has not raised the defense of

[ 468 Pa. Page 214]

    insanity and today's decision in no way affects the vitality of the M'Naghten test as the sole standard in this Commonwealth for determining criminal responsibility where the actor alleges mental illness or defect.*fn3 Second, for reasons that will be discussed hereinafter, we do not view the position adopted today as inferentially accepting the irresistible impulse test which we have previously expressly rejected.*fn4 Third, we do not here reach the question of the applicability of the principles announced herein to crimes requiring a specific intent other than murder of the first degree.

Appellant, Michael Walzack, was tried before a jury and convicted of murder of the first degree in the shooting death of one Ole Toasen. Following a penalty hearing, appellant was sentenced to life imprisonment. Post-trial motions for a new trial and in arrest of judgment were filed and denied and this direct appeal followed.*fn5

During the trial, the defense admitted the killing and attempted to establish its position through the testimony of appellant and a Dr. Willis. When called to the stand, the defense made an offer of proof indicating that the witness did not intend to contest appellant's sanity at the time of the incident, under the M'Naghten standard. The defense conceded that appellant was sane; that he

[ 468 Pa. Page 215]

    could tell the difference between right and wrong and that he knew the nature and quality of his act. The single stated purpose in offering the witness was to demonstrate that as a result of a surgical procedure, a lobotomy, which appellant had undergone, he did not possess sufficient mental capacity to form the specific intent required for a conviction of murder of the first degree.*fn6

In rejecting the psychiatric evidence, the trial court relied on a number of our earlier closely divided decisions. Commonwealth v. Tomlinson, 446 Pa. 241, 284 A.2d 687 (1971) (majority opinion by Bell, C. J., concurring opinion by Barbieri, J., dissenting opinion by Roberts, J., in which Jones and Pomeroy, JJ., joined); Commonwealth v. ...


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