Appealed from: Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One
Oral argument: April 19, 2006
FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT, DUE PROCESS, A.R.S. § 13-502(A), Criminal law, Insanity, M'NAGHTEN TEST
On June 21, 2000, 17-year-old Eric Clark shot and killed Flagstaff, Arizona Police Officer Jeffrey Moritz. Brief for Petitioner at 2. At the time, Clark had been suffering from delusions and hallucinations and had been diagnosed as suffering schizophrenia and psychosis. Id. At trial, he attempted to present evidence of his mental illness in order to negate the mens rea knowledge and intent elements of first degree murder. The government, however, argued successfully that under Arizona's definition of insanity (A.R.S. § 13-502(A)) and State v. Mott, evidence of Clark's mental illness was impermissible to negate the mens rea of the crime. Clark was subsequently convicted of first degree murder. He appeals the conviction, arguing that preventing him from using evidence of his mental disease to negate the mens rea of the crime violates his Due Process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Whether Arizona's insanity law, as set forth in A.R.S. § 13-502 (1996) and applied in this case, violated Petitioner's right to due process under the United States Constitution, Fourteenth Amendment?
Whether Arizona's blanket exclusion of evidence and refusal to consider mental disease or defect to rebut the state's evidence on the element of mens rea violated Petitioner's right to due process under the United States Constitution, Fourteenth Amendment?
Does Arizona's insanity law, which recognizes an insanity defense to a criminal charge only when the defendant did not know the act was wrong at the time he committed it, violate the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by excluding evidence of mental disease in order to negate the mens rea element of the charged crime?
In the early morning on June 21, 2000, in Flagstaff, Arizona, 17-year-old Eric Clark borrowed the keys to his brother's truck while his brother was sleeping. Clark repeatedly drove the truck around a nearby neighborhood for forty minutes, disturbing residents by playing music loudly from the truck's stereo. Brief for Petitioner at 3. As Clark circled the block, many neighbors called 9-1-1 to report the disturbance. Id. Flagstaff Police Officer Jeffrey Moritz responded to the call and pulled Clark over. Id. at 4. Clark shot Moritz several times, severing a major artery and killing him.
At the time of the shooting, Clark was suffering from chronic paranoid schizophrenia and was actively psychotic. Brief for Petitioner at 3. There was no dispute of these facts at trial. Id. For a year and a half prior to the shootings, Clark had been suffering from mood swings and episodes where he screamed and whispered gibberish. Id. at 5. He believed earth had been invaded by aliens who were trying to capture and kill him. Id. Clark had spent time in a psychiatric hospital but had been released against medical advice. Id.
Before 1993, Arizona's substantive test of criminal liability consisted of the M'Naghten test for criminal insanity, codified in 1977 in former A.R.S. § 13-502(A). Under this test, a defendant could be found legally insane if “at the time of the criminal act, the accused had '(1) such a defect of reason as not to know the nature and quality of the act, or (2) if he did know the nature and quality of the act, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.” State v. Tamplin, 195 Ariz. 246, 248 (1999). In 1993, however, the Arizona legislature enacted the current A.R.S. § 13-502(A), under which a person may be found “guilty except insane” only “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. Id.
On July 27, 2000, Clark was indicted on one count of first-degree murder for intentionally or knowingly killing a law enforcement officer acting in the line of duty. A.R.S. § 13-1105(A)(3). The trial court found Clark incompetent to stand trial and ordered Clark to be treated at Arizona State Hospital until his competency was restored. Brief for Respondent at 2. After three years, Clark was determined competent and was tried without a jury. Brief for Petitioner at 9. At trial, Clark raised the affirmative defense of insanity, which would entitle him to a “guilty except insane” verdict and to placement in Arizona State Hospital instead of imprisonment. Brief for Respondent at 5. The prosecution urged at trial that under State v. Mott, 187 Ariz. 536 (1997) the insanity test is the sole standard for criminal responsibility in Arizona and that evidence of “diminished capacity” in order to negate intent or knowledge was impermissible. Brief for Petitioner at 8. The government therefore asserted that Clark was not permitted to present evidence of his purported delusions because such evidence would be that of “diminished capacity,” which is not permissible under Arizona law. Id.
The defense argued that the Guilty Except Insane ("GEI") statute and the Mott prohibition violated Clark's rights to present a complete defense. Id. at 9. Under Arizona law, the standard for determining whether a defendant is insane is whether he/she is afflicted by a qualifying illness and as a result “did not know the criminal act was wrong.” A.R.S. § 13-502(A). The trial judge found that Clark was guilty of first-degree murder as charged because he had not proven his affirmative defense of Guilty Except Insane. Brief for Petitioner at 10. Clark made federal Due Process challenges based on the narrowness of the GEI standard and the refusal of the judge to consider evidence of Clark's mental illness in deciding whether the prosecution had proved the requisite mens rea elements of first-degree murder. Id. The Arizona Court of Appeals later rejected these same arguments. Id. at 11.
Petitioners argue that by “drastically narrowing” its definition of insanity to exclude defendants who did not know the nature of quality of their actions at the time of the offense, Arizona has departed from a well-established standard of insanity that was accepted at the time the Due Process Clauses were written and ratified. Brief for Petitioner at 37. Petitioners further argue that states may not adopt an insanity test narrower than M'Naghten's without violating Due Process. Id. at 39. In flouting the fundamental principle that an individual cannot be held culpable for acts when he does not even know what he is doing, Arizona violates Due Process. Id. at 45.
Respondents argue that Arizona's definition of insanity does not violate due process. Brief for Respondent at 10. Due process does not require Arizona to admit psychological evidence in order to negate the mens rea of a crime. Id. at 12. Respondents recognize that Clark presented evidence of his mental illness to prove insanity as an affirmative defense, but he never demonstrated how the evidence was relevant to the mens rea element of the charges against him. Id. at 13. Respondents also claim that Clark does not have a Fourteenth Amendment Due Process right to present psychological evidence to negate the mens rea of murder because no fundamental principle of justice requires a state to enact an insanity defense or any particular definition of insanity. Id. at 14-15. Arizona's legislatively designed criminal system therefore tried and convicted Clark in accordance with due process. Id. at 44.
The due process rights implicated in this case are substantial. The American Psychiatric Association, in its amicus brief in support of petitioner, argued that a categorical preclusion of consideration of mental-disorder evidence on the mens rea elements of a crime is unconstitutional. Brief Amicus Curiae for the American Psychiatric Association et al., Supporting Petitioner at 5. The right to present relevant, reliable, non-prejudicial, non-privileged evidence to negate proof of the elements of a crime is a fundamental due process right. Id. Mental-disorder evidence falls within this category. Id. Further, “history and overwhelming current practice” support a constitutional rule that precludes serious criminal punishment of one who lacked appreciation of the wrongfulness of conduct when engaging in it because of a mental disease. This tradition of acknowledging the relevance of mental disabilities to criminal cases, reflects a core principle of the Due Process clause, that of offering a defendant a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate the relevance of mental disability to the criminal charge. Brief of the American Association on Mental Retardation et al., in Support of Petitioner at 2. A decision affirming Arizona's narrow view of the test for insanity could present an infringement of these constitutional principles and rights.
The decision will also have an impact on the protection of citizens, responsibility for intentional criminal acts, and psychiatric testimony in the determination of mens rea. See Amicus Curiae Brief of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights in Support of Respondent at 3. The increase in purported identification of alleged psychiatric illnesses in recent decades can result in inaccurate and unreliable testimony. Id. It can also result in the diminution of responsibility for intentional crimes simply by “mischaracterizing” the accused as insane. Id. This testimony can be confusing to juries, and, amici argue, unnecessary to the determination of mens rea. Id. This threatens the safety of citizens that the specific definition of certain crimes such as first-degree murder is created to protect. Amici argue that Arizona has devised an appropriate way of providing predictable criminal justice through its insanity test formulation while both honoring the rights of its citizens and sufficiently preserving the rights of criminal defendants. Id. at 30.
The Constitutionality of Arizona's Insanity Defense
The first question is whether Arizona's insanity defense violates the Constitution, specifically the Eight Amendment. Arizona allows a verdict of “guilty except insane” where the defendant suffers from a mental disease of such severity that the defendant did not know the act was wrong. A.R.S. § 13-502(A). The M'Naghten test is arguably the most traditionally accepted test of insanity. Brief for Petitioner, at 33. It was the law of Arizona until Arizona's current law was enacted in 1993, and it was prevalent in the common law when the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments were adopted. Brief for Respondent, at 15.
The M'Naghten test states that a defendant will not be held responsible for an otherwise criminal act if (1) she does not understand the nature and quality of the act, or (2) if she does, she does not know the act is wrong. State v. Tamplin, 195 Ariz. 246, 248 (Ct. App. 1999); M'Naghten Case, 10 Clark & Fin. 200, 210 (1843). The petitioner argues that the M'Naghten test is so embedded in our legal tradition as to have become a fundamental principle of justice that is protected by the Constitution. Brief for Petitioner, at 40. It argues that Arizona's statute abrogates the M'Naghten rule and is a narrower definition of insanity, thus violating the constitutional minimum requirement of the M'Naghten test. Id.
There are in actuality two steps to the petitioner's argument. First, the petitioner must argue that the Constitution requires states to have an insanity defense no narrower than the M'Naghten test. Second, the petitioner must argue that Arizona's statute is actually narrower than the M'Naghten test.
In response to the first argument, the respondents cite Medina v. California, 505 U.S. 437, 449 in arguing that Constitution does not require the states to provide any insanity defense at all. Brief for Respondent, at 17. A fortiori, the Constitution does not require the M'Naghten test. Id. The petitioner argues that the M'Naghten test is a fundamental principal of justice, and therefore required by the constitution under the precedent set in a line of case, the most recent of which is Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197 (1977).
However, even assuming the petitioner is correct that the Constitution requires an insanity defense no narrower than M'Naghten, the respondents argue that the Arizona insanity defense is not actually narrower. Id., at 24. Their argument goes as follows: under M'Naghten there are theoretically three possible types of criminal defendants (beyond those who know neither the nature and quality of their act nor its wrongness): (1) those who know the nature and quality of their act, but not that their act was wrong, (2) those who know the nature and quality of their act and know it was wrong, and (3) those who do not know the nature or quality of their act, but who know their act is wrong anyway. Under M'Naghten, the first step rules out the third type of defendant because person does not know the nature or quality of their act. The second step considers the first and second types (as people who know the nature and quality of their act) and imposes liability only on the second type, because the first type does not also know the act was wrong. Therefore, under M'Naghten, the insanity defense is available to defendant unless he is of the second type.
Under the forgoing model, the respondents argue that the Arizona law is no narrower than the M'Naghten test simply because it is not possible to have a defendant of type three. See Id. It is not possible, they argue, for a defendant to know an act is wrong without understanding the nature and quality of the action. Therefore, the argument goes, under the Arizona law the insanity defense is also available to any defendants except those of the second type. Id.
The petitioner argues that because schizophrenics are irrational, they can hold contradictory beliefs. Brief for Petitioner, at 46. For example, Clark believed that his family were his best friends and also that his parents were aliens. Id. The petitioner argues that being unaware of the nature of ones acts and at the same time understanding that they are wrong is equally possible. Id. In response, it could be argued that while Clark may sometimes believe his parents are aliens and at other times believe they are his friends, he simply cannot, for example, both trust and not trust his parents at a given moment in time. Similarly, if knowing the nature of an act is, as the respondents would argue, necessary for knowledge that the act is wrong, then Clark must have understood the nature of his act. He simply could not both know and not know the nature of his act at the same time. See Brief for Respondent, at 24.
Resolution of this issue will thus depend on (1) a determination of whether the Arizona insanity defense is actually narrower than the M'Naghten test, i.e. whether it is possible for someone to know an act is wrong without understanding the nature and quality of the act, and (2) a determination of whether the Constitution prohibits any state from having an insanity defense narrower than the M'Naghten test.
The Constitutionality of Refusing to Consider Evidence of Mental Disease or Defect to Rebut the mens rea Element of a Crime
Although it is arguably not within the scope of the grant of certiorari, the petitioner argues that the judge erred in excluding evidence of the defendant's mental state or defect to provide an alternative explanation for the conduct from which intent was inferred. Brief for Petitioner, at 13. In other words, even assuming Arizona does not have to recognize a “diminished capacity” negation of mens rea, it may not exclude relevant evidence regarding the conduct itself from which the factual determination of whether the defendant had such mens rea, however defined, is made. See Id.
Respondents argue in response that the court did not refuse the defendants evidence for such purpose. Brief for Respondent, at 27. Rather, the trial court held and the Appeals Court agreed that the defense had not offered any proof that the defendant's insanity prevented him from forming the requisite mens rea. Id. It is clear from the record that the trial court did allow the defense to make an offering of proof to rebut the mens rea, but it also appears that the trial court felt bound not to consider such proof because it was bound by Mott. State v. Clark, No. 1 CA-CR 03-0851 and 1 CA 03-0985 (Ariz. App. Ct. 2005) (unpublished). Resolution of the issue seems then to depend on whether the trial court considered the evidence and found it to be unpersuasive or whether he refused to consider it at all.
The petitioner next argues that the refusal of Arizona courts to consider evidence of a mental disease or defect on the issue of whether a defendant was capable of forming the requisite mens rea violates due process. Brief for Petitioner, at 21. The petitioner argues that the defendant is prevented from presenting relevant evidence in disputing an issue of fact necessary for criminal liability. Id. Since the Arizona murder statute requires that the defendant knowingly or intentionally kill, the petitioner argues that the defendant must be allowed to present evidence as to whether the defendant actually knew or had the intent to kill. Id.
The respondents argue that the evidence of mental disease or defect is not relevant, because the Arizona supreme court has interpreted “intent” and “knowledge” in the Arizona murder statute such that they do not depend on whether the defendant was insane or not. Brief for Respondent, at 30. It further argues that there is no fundamental principle of justice that requires Arizona to define these mens rea elements such that mental disease or defect is relevant. Id.
The petitioner argues that the Arizona legislature could not, as the respondents' interpretation implies, have intended to create the following two alternate offenses: (1) intentionally or knowingly killing a police officer or (2) killing a police without intention or knowledge because a mental disease prevents intention or knowledge. Brief for Petitioner, at 23. The response is that Arizona merely uses an objective rather than subjective understanding of knowledge and intent. Brief for Respondent, at 39. In the same way that criminal liability is predicated on what a reasonable person would know or do, intent and knowledge in this case are to be judged not based on what the defendant's actual mental processes were, but on what could reasonably be inferred from the way he acted. Id. There are policy reasons behind this decision of the state, including a mistrust of psychological evidence and the apparent difficulty in acquiring proof of actual mental states. Id., at 40. So, the offense could be restated as “killing a police officer in such a way that it appears to a reasonable observer that the killing was intentional or with knowledge.”
Petitioner's two basic contentions are that Arizona has, contrary to fundamental, traditional principles of justice, dropped one of the requirements of the M'Naghten test, and that due process requires that the trier of fact consider evidence of mental disease or defect in making a determination on whether the requisite mens rea element of a crime was present. See generally Brief for Petitioner. Respondents answer the first by arguing that states are not required to have any insanity defense at all, therefore, they do not have to apply the full M'Naghten test. Brief for Respondent, at 17. Moreover, respondents argue that the Arizona insanity defense is not actually narrower than the M'Naghten test because understanding wrongfulness of one's actions implies understanding the nature and quality of one's actions. Brief for Respondent, at 24. On the second point, the respondents argue that Arizona has merely chosen an objective standard of intention and knowledge, and so evidence of actual mental states is irrelevant, and thus need not have been considered by the trier of fact. Brief for Respondent, at 30. The Court's decision on each issue has the potential to clarify the extent of due process requirements vis-a-vis the insanity defense.
- LII Backgrounder: Insanity and diminished capacity; Law about... Criminal law
- Facsimile of Arizona v. Clark (pdf, via Osborn Maledon's appellate blog)