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
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.