Legal News
APA Wants Supreme Court to Allow More Trial Evidence of Mental State
Psychiatric News
Volume 41 Number 12 page 13-13

Defendants have a constitutional right to consideration of their mental health problems when determining their criminal intent, according to an amicus curiae brief that APA submitted in a case under Supreme Court review.

The brief was submitted in Clark v. Arizona, which was argued before the court in April and concerns whether a teenager convicted of killing an Arizona police officer had a fair chance to argue that he was insane.

The case is the first Supreme Court consideration of insanity claims in more than a decade. The defendant, Eric Michael Clark, had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was convicted of shooting Officer Jeff Moritz during a traffic stop in Flagstaff, Ariz., on June 21, 2000. His defense maintained that Clark believed his town was under alien control and that he was held captive and tortured before the killing.

The state, joined by the Bush administration, argued that Clark knew what he was doing and knew it was wrong because he ran away from police and spoke of trapping and killing police before the shooting.

Like many other states, Arizona tightened its insanity defense laws after John Hinckley's acquittal by reason of insanity in the March 1981 shooting of President Ronald Reagan and three others. Four states changed their laws to bar any insanity defense.

APA's amicus brief, in which it was joined by the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, urged the court to require states to allow consideration of evidence of mental health problems when determining a defendant's criminal intent.

"A fundamental due process right is the right to present relevant, reliable, nonprejudicial, nonprivileged evidence to negate the State's effort to prove the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt," stated the brief. "Mental-disorder evidence, in relation to mens rea elements of the sort at issue in this case, comes within that right."

The amicus brief also asked the court to support the larger point that the Constitution requires states to permit an insanity defense, which the state argued the court has repeatedly rejected.

The state also held that it may decide for itself when and how any insanity defense it allows may be asserted. Arizona no longer allows individuals a defense based only on the presence of a mental defect. Its defendants with mental illness are limited to a defense based on whether a mental defect kept them from knowing right from wrong.

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