December 5, 2005

Court to review law limiting insanity defense

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court said on
Monday that it would decide a challenge by a convicted murderer
arguing that an Arizona law unconstitutionally limits the use
of the insanity defense.

His attorney had urged the high court to hear the appeal
because the issue affected "a growing number of states that
have in the recent past abolished the insanity defense
completely or severely limited its application." The attorney
said the case presented issues of "national importance."

Eric Clark, who has been diagnosed with paranoid
schizophrenia, was convicted of murder for the fatal shooting
of a police officer on June 21, 2000, in Flagstaff, Arizona.

The shooting occurred after Clark, who was 17 at the time,
was stopped by the officer in response to complaints that Clark
was driving around a neighborhood in a pickup truck, blaring
loud music and disturbing residents.

The trial court found Clark guilty of murder and held that
he failed to prove that he was insane at the time of the crime,
as required by Arizona law. He was sentenced to life in prison,
with eligibility for parole after serving 25 years.

Prosecutors at trial conceded that Clark suffered from
mental problems at the time of the crime but offered testimony
that he understood right from wrong and therefore was not
insane under Arizona law.

Clark's attorney, David Goldberg, said in the appeal to the
Supreme Court that the Arizona insanity law was
unconstitutional because it restricted what evidence can be
introduced at trial.

Defense lawyers at trial wanted to show that Clark, as a
result of his mental illness, did not intentionally kill the
police officer and thus was guilty of a less serious form of

In the appeal to the Supreme Court, they also challenged a
provision of the law that limits the defense from offering
evidence of mental disease or defect to rebut the prosecutor's
evidence of intent.

Like many states, Arizona modified its insanity laws after
John Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the
1981 shooting of President Ronald Reagan and three others
outside a Washington hotel.

The law was changed in the 1990s to limit the availability
of the insanity defense only to someone who at the time of the
crime had such a severe mental disease or defect that the
person did not know the act was wrong.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case most
likely in April, with a decision expected by the end of June.