The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider whether a teen convicted of killing an Arizona police officer had a fair chance to argue that he was insane, renewing debate about insanity defenses.
Justices over the past decade have repeatedly declined to consider cases involving insanity claims.
In a surprise, the court said it would take up the case of Eric Michael Clark, who has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He was a 17-year-old high school student when he shot Officer Jeff Moritz during a traffic stop in Flagstaff, Ariz., on June 21, 2000.
There was evidence that Clark believed his town had been taken over by aliens and that he was being held captive and tortured before the killing.
His lawyer, David Goldberg, told justices that the state insanity law is unconstitutional because it restricts what evidence can be introduced at trial.
"This court has never directly addressed this issue of national importance," Goldberg said.
Arizona changed its laws after John Hinckley's acquittal by reason of insanity in the March 1981 shooting of President Reagan and three others outside a Washington hotel.
Arizona assistant attorney general Michael O'Toole said in a filing that "even if the states are required to provide an insanity defense to criminal defendants, this court's prior decisions make clear that no one particular test is required."
In 1994, the court let stand Montana's abolition of insanity as an affirmative defense for criminal defendants. But then three years ago justices refused to review a Nevada Supreme Court decision that defendants have a right to use insanity defenses.
At issue in the Arizona case is the use of evidence in contesting whether a defendant was so mentally ill that he or she did not know the crime was wrong.
Clark was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison in the officer's death. Arguments in his case will be held next spring.
The case is Clark v. Arizona, 05-5966.