Arizona Forensic Psychiatry
Roland Segal, M.D., DFAPA

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Diminished Responsibility in Arizona - Clark v. Arizona 2006

In Clark v. Arizona, the U.S. Supreme Court was asked if Arizona’s Case Law prohibiting the use of mental disease or defect to combat mens rea element of a crime violated due process.  Arizona Supreme Court decision in State v. Mott ruled that “Arizona does not allow evidence of a defendant’s mental disorder short of insanity to negate the mens rea elements of a crime.”

Eric Clark killed Flagstaff Police Officer on June 21, 2000.  The defendant was diagnosed with chronic paranoid schizophrenia and was psychotic at the time of the crime.  

At trial, it was undisputed that the defendant was mentally ill.  Prosecution argued that the defendant committed first degree murder knowingly and intentionally.  The trial court ruled that it was bound by State v. Mott, had to exclude mental illness evidence except to apply it ONLY to the defense of guilty except insane.  However, the defendant did not qualify for the insanity defense.

The defendant appealed the case, but The Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and upheld the trial courts application of State v. Mott.  This basicallyblocked evidence of mental illness from negating mens rea in Arizona.

The Arizona Supreme Court denied its discretionary review, but the U.S. Supreme Court granted the writ of certiorari

The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the Arizona Court of Appeals.  The ruling outlined that different jurisdictions follow different standards.  Some jurisdictions follow legal standard of wrongfulness (Arizona), other follow moral standard of wrongfulness (Colorado), yet other jurisdictions follow a product of mental illness standard (New Hampshire).   The Court also opined that mens rea is a necessary part of guilt, so the fact finder may be presented with the evidence of mental disease and incapacity and if there is enough evidence to create a reasonable doubt about mens rea, then that is analogous to diminished capacity.

So what is mens rea and what does a forensic psychiatrist do with it?  In criminal law, mens rea (guilty mind) is a necessary element of a crime (except strict liability crimes [drunk driving, statutory rape...]).  Some jurisdictions permit mens rea defenses to negate a specific intent and causing the defendant to be found of a lesser-included crime and thus lesser sentence.  Arizona is not one of those jurisdictions.  Arizona is all or nothing state.

Mens rea is a specific intent that an individual has when committing a crime.  There must be a specific objective for doing the actual act.  Specific intent crimes (ex. 1st degree murder, assault, burglary, forgery...) by definition require that the defendant act purposefully or knowingly with a specific intent to do something or other (ex. kill someone, cause injury, deprive, defraud...).

So, can a severe mental illness incapacitate an individual to the extend that they don't have the ability to act "purposefully or knowingly with a specific intent"?

And this is why three of the six justices of the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed with the majority decision, saying that "Arizona's rule is problematic because it excludes evidence no matter how credible and material it may be in disproving an element of the offense."

Roland SegalComment