I. Constitutional Law: C. Due Process

Harvard Law Review, November 2006 | Go to article overview

I. Constitutional Law: C. Due Process


1. Required Scope of Insanity Defense.--Since M'Naghten's Case, (1) common law courts have recognized the need to take account of mental illness in assessing criminal responsibility. Precisely how to go about this accounting has long been a matter of debate, and American jurisdictions have adopted a variety of formulations. (2) In a federal system, a question naturally arises: does "fundamental fairness" (3) require states' criminal laws to include some baseline recognition of mental illness to comport with the Due Process Clause? Last Term, in Clark v. Arizona, (4) the Supreme Court concluded that Arizona's abbreviated form of the M'Naghten test for insanity was consistent with due process. (5) The Court also held that Arizona's rule prohibiting consideration of evidence of mental illness in determining the presence of the requisite mens rea did not violate due process. (6) In doing so, the Court advanced thin countervailing concerns that ultimately are insufficient to outweigh defendants' due process rights, revealing a deep skepticism of contemporary psychiatry.

During the early hours of June 21, 2000, Eric Clark repeatedly drove around a residential block in Flagstaff, Arizona, blaring loud music, which caused residents to alert the police. (7) When Flagstaff police officer Jeffrey Moritz responded and stopped Clark's vehicle, Clark shot and killed him. (8) Clark was subsequently arrested and charged with first-degree murder for intentionally or knowingly killing a law enforcement officer in the line of duty. (9) The court initially found Clark incompetent to stand trial, but, after he was treated for two years at a psychiatric facility, the court deemed his competence restored and his case proceeded to trial. (10)

At trial, Clark did not deny that he had shot and killed Moritz, but instead presented evidence of his paranoid schizophrenia to negate his responsibility for the crime under two theories. First, he relied upon an insanity defense, claiming that "at the time of the commission of the criminal act [he] was afflicted with a mental disease or defect of such severity that [he] did not know the criminal act was wrong." (11) Second, he claimed that as a result of his mental illness, he lacked the requisite mens rea because he did not act "intentionally or knowingly to kill a law enforcement officer." (12)

Relying on State v. Mott, (13) an Arizona Supreme Court decision that disallowed the use of psychiatric testimony to disprove specific intent, (14) the trial court ruled that "Arizona does not allow evidence of a defendant's mental disorder short of insanity ... to negate the mens rea element of a crime." (15) The trial court further found that, although Clark clearly suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, his evidence was insufficient to show that the illness "distort[ed] his perception of reality so severely that he did not know his actions were wrong." (16) The court entered a special verdict of first-degree murder and sentenced Clark to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for twenty-five years. (17)

Clark moved to vacate the judgment and sentence, contending that Arizona's insanity test violated due process because it omitted the first prong of the two-part M'Naghten test. (18) Clark also argued that the Mott rule's blanket exclusion of expert psychiatric evidence to rebut the prosecution's proof of the requisite mental state denied him the right to present a complete defense and thus violated due process. (19) The trial court denied the motion. (20)

The Court of Appeals of Arizona affirmed. As to the insanity test, the court noted that the State had discretion to decide not just the scope of such a test, but even whether to recognize an insanity defense at all. (21) The court also held that Mott presented no constitutional problem and upheld its application to Clark's case. (22) The Supreme Court of Arizona denied further review, and Clark petitioned for certiorari.

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I. Constitutional Law: C. Due Process
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