April 28, 2006

Supreme Court To Decide On "Insanity Defense" Case

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express (subscribe)

WASHINGTON, DC--The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last week in an Arizona case that could affect how states handle the "insanity defense" by suspects that have mental illness.

The case involves Eric Michael Clark, who was a 17-year-old high school junior when he shot and killed Flagstaff Police Officer Jeff Moritz on June 21, 2000.

Clark had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and admitted to killing Moritz, but said he believed the officer was actually one of a number of alien life forms that had taken over the town. In his 2003 non-jury trial, he pleaded "guilty but insane", and his attorney said that he should receive treatment in a psychiatric facility.

Arizona law only allowed Clark to argue that his mental illness made him unable to know at the time that what he did was wrong, but not whether he intended to kill Moritz.

The trial judge convicted Clark of first-degree intentional murder and sentenced him to life in prison.

Clark's attorney appealed the conviction, arguing that Arizona's law on the insanity defense is so restrictive that it violates the defendants' due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Attorneys for the state argued that the law holds criminals accountable for their crimes, and that having a mental illness does not necessarily mean the person should be treated differently if they knew that what they did was wrong at the time.

In January, the American Association on Mental Retardation, The Arc of the United States, the National Disability Rights Network, and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law filed a "friend of the court" brief supporting Clark's position. The advocacy groups argued that states must consider defendants' mental disabilities when determining whether a person is guilty of a crime.

The Supreme Court's decision, which is expected in a few months, could impact dozens of states that currently allow some form of an insanity defense.

"U.S. justices look at Ariz. killing" (Arizona Republic)

"U.S. Supreme Court Weighs Arizona's Insanity Defense Laws" (PBS NewsHour)

Eric Michael Clark v. Arizona (U.S. Supreme Court)

Amicus brief filed by AAMR, et. al (NAPAS)

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Posted on April 28, 2006