An Ottawa man sentenced to seven years in jail for killing two people in a 1996 drunk driving accident was recently found not criminally responsible for drinking related charges because he was under the spell of a psychosis in which Shania Twain allegedly compelled him to drive.
A forensic psychologist testified that Matt Brownlee could not understand the moral wrongness of drinking and driving because he suffers from delusions in which celebrities such as Twain communicate with him telepathically.
Western law professor Robert Solomon said the “Shania Twain defence” is a variation on the typical insanity plea.
“If someone is sufficiently mentally ill not to understand the moral consequences of what they are doing, the mental disability provision of the criminal code would provide a defence to [Brownlee] as in any other criminal case,” he said.
Brownlee has been in and out of hospitals and jails since his initial arrest.
Elizabeth White, executive director of St. Leonard’s Society of Canada, an organization dedicated to social and criminal justice, recommends that the mentally ill be treated in appropriate institutions.
“This situation is tough because this man sustained the initial injury while committing a crime. It’s important to remember though that mental disorders need to be treated in mental health facilities and not in prison.”
Western psychology professor Mike Atkinson said that, while this is an unusual case, “there is such a thing as temporary psychosis and typically it’s drug induced and it may be used as grounds for a not criminally responsible plea.”
Atkinson also noted that delusions involving celebrities are not uncommon, and explained a case with similar circumstances.
In 1999, a British Columbia judge acquitted Julia Campagna of manslaughter after evidence suggested the drug ephedra pushed her into a temporary psychosis in which she believed National Hockey League star Joe Nieuwendyk spoke to her on the radio, according to Atkinson.
Campagna drove at speeds exceeding 160 km/hr because her delusion led her to believe she needed to hurry to Nieuwendyk’s house so that they could conceive a baby, he explained.
Brownlee continues to undergo medical treatment at the Brockville Psychiatric Hospital.