The U.S. Supreme Court, taking up an issue it has avoided for nearly two decades, will hear an appeal filed on behalf of a teenager who apparently thought he was being pursued by aliens when he killed an Arizona police officer, the Associated Press reports. The man’s attorney, David Goldberg, contends that Arizona lawmakers made their law too restrictive. It allows a defendant to be found “guilty except insane” and held for mental health treatment, but it restricts what evidence can be used to prove insanity.
It is the first time the court has dealt with a direct constitutional challenge to insanity defense laws since states imposed new restrictions after John Hinckley’s acquittal by reason of insanity in the March 1981 shooting of then-President Reagan, said law Prof. Richard Bonnie of the University of Virginia. Most, but not all, states allow insanity defenses. In 1994, the Supreme Court let stand Montana’s abolition of insanity as a defense for criminal defendants. Three years ago justices refused to review a Nevada Supreme Court decision that defendants have a right to use insanity defenses. The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist had been skeptical of insanity defenses.