Nebraska (Criminal Law): Being High on Drugs is Not Insanity

The Nebraska Supreme Court was faced with the question of whether being high on hallucinogenic mushrooms qualified a defendant for the insanity defense or merely did it make the defendant eligible for a voluntary intoxication instruction in State v. Hotz. Voluntary intoxication is not a full defense to a crime in Nebraska.

The defendant, Joseph Hotz, was charged with the murder of his roommate, Kenneth Pfeiffer in Chadron, Nebraska. Hotz was arrested after going from house to house and threatening violence. When the police arrested Hotz, he was covered in blood, and he told the police the blood was from his roommate. When police arrived at the apartment they found Pfeiffer dead.  Both Hotz and Pfeiffer smoked marijuana and consumed hallucinogenic mushrooms approximately two hours before the murder.

At trial Hotz’s attorneys filed a timely motion to present an insanity defense. The state then filed a motion to prevent the defense from arguing that being high qualified as having a mental defect. The trial court’s record is unclear on how the court ruled, but the court did later make an instruction to the jury that the defense must carry the burden of proving an insanity defense. The defense then went on to put on evidence as to Hotz’s state of mind because of the drugs, but when the defense asked for an insanity defense instruction the judge denied the request.

This appeal brought two questions for the state’s high court. Was there a procedural mistake made by the trial court in allowing the defense to put on evidence as to the insanity defense, but later denying the insanity instruction, and second, is someone high on drug entitled to an insanity defense?

Ultimately, the high court found there was a procedural error by the trial court because it led the defense to believe it could put on an insanity defense but then pulled the rug out at the last minute. Such action deprived the defendant of a defense and the high court ordered a new trial on those grounds.

But the court ruled that being high on drugs is not the same as insanity, insofar as criminal liability is concerned. The high court held that the law in Nebraska requires a mental defect or disease, and being high does not qualified.


Lincoln Star Journal

–Davis M. Walsh

Our Editors

Rebecca Green, College of William & Mary Law School

Scott Graves, National Center for State Courts