Will AZ kill a paranoid schizophrenic?
by fairleft, Mon Jan 10, 2011 at 12:41:46 PM EST
It's unlikely that Jared Loughner feels 'guilt' over what he did two days ago, if guilt means feeling bad or at least defensive about having done something morally wrong. But that won't stop Arizona from convicting him of murder and quite possibly killing him. There is already an on-point case, Clark v. Arizona, given the stamp of approval by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006, where a paranoid schizophrenic 17-year-old was convicted of murder (probably because he was not yet an adult, he was 'only' sentenced to 25 years to life).
After he shot and killed a police officer, Eric Clark called his mom and dad from jail and explained that Flagstaff, Arizona, "was a 'platinum city' inhabited by 50,000 aliens. He told them: 'The only thing that will stop aliens are bullets.'" For Arizona, that's a guilty frame of mind. Five years ago, Emily Bazelon wrote an excellent article summarizing the case called Crazy Law:
The psychiatrists who testified in the case of Eric Clark agreed that he was a paranoid schizophrenic, and actively psychotic, when he shot and killed a police officer in Flagstaff, Ariz. Clark had previously been hospitalized for his mental illness. After his release, he retreated to one room in his house, rigged up a fishing line with beads and wind chimes to warn of intruders, and said that aliens were trying to capture and kill him. In the two days before the shooting, which took place in 2000 when he was 17, his parents frantically—and fruitlessly—called mental-health facilities and a lawyer in an effort to get him recommitted. ...
How did we get to a place where a clearly crazy teenager's craziness is irrelevant to disproving the prosecution's theory that he committed murder?
Obviously, something crazy has happened to the insanity defense over the last three decades, and some of the blame should go to 'pay to say' psychiatrists, the indeterminate nature of mental illness, and the 1982 John Hinckley 'not guilty by reason of insanity' verdict:
Before the 1970s, the public outcry over a jury finding a person "not guilty by reason of insanity" ("NGRI") was not nearly as great as it is today. In that time period, insanity acquitees regularly spent many years (even a lifetime) locked in institutions for the criminally insane. An insanity acquittal was a showing of compassion and a recognition of the cruelty [of inflicting] punishment on someone who did not know his actions were wrong. More importantly, the public could rest assured that a person committed to a mental institution would not be walking the streets anytime in the near future (if ever).
In the past twenty years, however, this country has seen a more rapid release of NGRI's from hospitals. This pattern of early release is due to two factors: (1) court rulings that insanity acquitees are entitled to the same constitutional due process and equal protection rights of civil patients; this makes it more difficult to keep an individual in a hospital after recovering from mental illness; and (2) advances in psychiatric treatment. Thus, for the very first time, large numbers of NGRI's could return to the streets.
However, what was the underlying motivation for why, after Hinckley, 'something just had to be done' about the insanity defense? I think that's obvious: the American people's overwhelming desire to 'make somebody pay' when there's a murder. This desire overrode and still overrides the inconvenience that crazy people are not really 'guilty' under any reasonable understanding of the word.
That irrational desire for ritual sacrifice is one of many symbols of the decline, the coarsening and primitivization, of 'normal' U.S. society and morality under the squalid 'leadership' of Ronald Reagan and backbone-free Democrats who 'me-too-ed' him back in the '80s. Nothing at all has changed since then. So, prepare for the ritual sacrifice of a paranoid schizophrenic, you'll feel cleansed and whole again, America.