insanity, guilty minds, and psychiatric testimony

insanity, guilty minds, and psychiatric testimony - Law...

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PSYCHIATRIC SERVICES October 2006 Vol. 57 No. 10 1370 This column describes a recent Supreme Court case, Clark v. Ari- zona, in which an adolescent who had schizophrenia was convicted of first-degree murder of a police officer who he believed was a hos- tile space alien. The Arizona courts had rejected his insanity defense as well as a second de- fense that he lacked the required intent to commit the crime (mens rea) because his delusions inter- fered with his knowing that the victim was a police officer. The Court ultimately declined to over- turn Arizona’s rules regarding the insanity defense and mens rea. However, the column highlights the points in Justice Sou-ter’s de- cision that may have implications for any case involving mental health issues. ( Psychiatric Ser- vices 57:1370–1372, 2006 R arely does the U.S. Supreme Court enter the legal thicket sur- rounding criminal defenses involving insanity, diminished capacity, and re- lated states of mental impairment. As a rule, the Court prefers to leave these issues to be resolved by the jurisdic- tions in which they arise, as matters of state law. Thus considerable surprise and speculation attended the Court’s decision last year to hear a case that addressed the constitutional dimen- sions of both the insanity defense and the slippery legal concept of mens rea (Latin for a “guilty mind”). The case accepted by the Court in- volved Eric Clark, who was 17 years old at the time of his arrest and who had been acting oddly for years. Con- vinced that Flagstaff, Arizona, where he lived, had been populated by hos- tile space aliens, he slept surrounded by an alarm system made from fishing line and wind chimes. To avoid being poisoned by his parents, who he ulti- mately concluded were aliens as well, the only food he ate at home came from sealed packages. Perhaps most fatefully, Eric Clark decided that the police were aliens too. So it seemed the logical, if awful, culmination of his paranoid fantasies that early on a June morning he shot and killed a Flagstaff police officer who had pulled him over as he was driving erratically through a residential neighborhood (1). Charged with first-degree murder for knowingly or intentionally killing a police officer, Clark offered two alter- native defenses based on his mental state at the time of the crime. First, he argued that he should be found “guilty except insane”—Arizona’s for- mulation of the insanity defense—be- cause of his psychotic state. Under Arizona law, Clark needed to prove that his mental disorder rendered him unable to understand the wrong- fulness of his conduct—part of the historic M’Naghten standard for in- sanity. Clark argued that his delusions had prevented him from knowing that killing the officer, who he thought was an alien who was trying to harm him, was wrong. In the event that his insanity claim
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This note was uploaded on 11/03/2009 for the course SOCIOLOGY 1003 taught by Professor Johnadams during the Spring '09 term at Rochester Community Technical College.

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insanity, guilty minds, and psychiatric testimony - Law...

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