State Insanity Law Test At Supreme Court Today


Eric Clark, a 17-year-old schizophrenic, was found guilty of killing an Arizona police officer nearly five years ago and sentenced to life in prison. His lawyer argued that he was “guilty except insane” and should instead be sent to a psychiatric facility, reports the Associated Press. The Supreme Court is hearing Clark’s appeal today, in what may become a significant test of state insanity laws. All but four states – Idaho, Kansas, Montana, and Utah – allow insanity defenses, but the ruling in Clark’s case could force states to change their laws.

Arizona allows defendants to say they were insane at the time of a crime. Clark’s attorney, David Goldberg, said the standard to prove it is almost impossible, violating the constitutional rights of mentally ill defendants. State lawyers argue that the Supreme Court should not use this case to declare for the first time a constitutional right to an insanity defense. Both sides agreed that Clark suffered from paranoid schizophrenia; they disagreed on his legal insanity. Arizona law says a defendant “may be found guilty except insane if at the time of the commission of the criminal act the person was afflicted with a mental disease or defect of such severity that the person did not know the criminal act was wrong.”


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