On a cold December afternoon, two roommates—Joseph Hotz and Kenneth Pfeiffer—consumed psilocybin mushrooms. Two hours later, Pfeiffer was dead by Hotz’s hands. The intervening events were more bizarre and horrific than any after-school special. By stabbing his roommate to death in the midst of a drug-induced paranoia, Hotz did the unthinkable while he was unable to think. Defenses that palliate a defendant’s criminal liability because of intoxication are “[f]requently reviled” and “ever-controversial.” State v. Hotz raises the difficult question of whether a criminal intent formed in the midst of temporary drug-induced insanity is one deserving of punishment. The answer depends on whether the criminal law is viewed through the prism of retributivism or utilitarianism. An act committed in the midst of insanity, whatever its cause, is not as culpable as an act committed while sane. However, excusing an offender by reason of temporary drug-induced insanity fails to protect the public from a potentially dangerous individual. In extending to other drugs its prior case law denying the insanity defense to those temporarily insane due to the effects of alcohol, the Nebraska Supreme Court failed to relate its decision to the conflicting rationales of punishment. By treating Hotz’s criminal act the same as any other, the court perhaps worked an injustice on a less than fully culpable offender. Surprisingly, the court suggested that if only Hotz had severely abused drugs over a prolonged period of time—instead of experimenting with drugs recreationally—he may well have been excused of criminal liability under the settled-insanity doctrine. This Note begins by briefly outlining the defenses of insanity and voluntary intoxication, both in Nebraska and beyond. Next, this Note provides an outline of the status of both temporary and settled druginduced insanity, both in general and in Nebraska. Following the overview of the relevant criminal law, the facts and holdings of State v. Hotz will be recounted. This Note’s analysis starts by tracing the different strands of the settled-insanity doctrine and the justifications for its existence. Ultimately, this Note concludes that the settled-insanity doctrine, as contemplated by the Supreme Court of Nebraska and expounded elsewhere, is unsound on retributive grounds. Next, this Note discusses how the competing aims of retributivism and utilitarianism, particularly incapacitation, are set in conflict by temporary drug-induced insanity. Finally, this Note concludes that the best way for the law to address offenders like Hotz is through an offense of reckless or negligent intoxication. Culpability, and therefore criminal liability, should be based on the offender’s decision to become intoxicated and not the criminal act committed in the midst of temporary drug-induced insanity.
Mark A. Grimes,
Punishing Temporary Drug-Induced Insanity: An Analysis of State v. Hotz, 281 Neb. 260, 795 N.W.2d 645 (2011),
91 Neb. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nlr/vol91/iss2/6