Insanity Defense Ruling Gives Wide Latitude To States


Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling that upheld Arizona’s insanity-defense law gives wide latitude to states on the issue, says the Arizona Republic. A divided court upheld the murder conviction of a schizophrenic teenager who killed a police officer six years ago. Randall Howe of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office said he was pleased “that the court recognized that states have the ability to regulate the insanity defense as they see fit.”

Arizona, like many states, took steps to limit the insanity defense’s use after John Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1981 shooting of President Reagan. Kansas, Idaho, Montana and Utah have abolished the insanity defense. Sixteen other states concerned about the impact of the case on their own laws supported Arizona in papers filed with the court. Several justices worried during oral arguments that ruling for the defendant would usher in a wave of insanity claims. Citing varied insanity standards throughout the nation, Justice David Souter wrote for the court majority, “It is clear that no particular formulation has evolved into a baseline for due process” and that the insanity defense rule “is substantially open to state choice.”


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