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Fear and Loathing in Insanity Law: Explaining the Otherwise Inexplicable Clark v. Arizona

40 Pages Posted: 22 Jun 2007 Last revised: 15 Sep 2009

Susan D. Rozelle

Stetson University College of Law

Date Written: March 22, 2008


Eric Clark believed he was battling space aliens when he shot and killed Officer Jeffrey Moritz. Charged under a first-degree murder statute that requires knowledge the victim is a police officer, Clark should have been not guilty two ways: first, by reason of insanity, and second, because he did not satisfy the mens rea requirement. Instead, he was found guilty, and the United States Supreme Court's decision upholding this result tortured insanity law jurisprudence. The only plausible explanation for the Court's decision lies in society's emotional reaction to mental illness. Fear and loathing have displaced not only care and compassion, but even logic.

This article first describes and then unpacks the irrationality of the Court's reasoning in Clark. The Court's inexplicable decisions - finding no semiotic truncation of Arizona's insanity statute, and upholding its refusal to admit evidence of mental illness on the question of mens rea - can be explained only by reference to our unconscious selves. The mentally ill frighten us, and when we are frightened, we do not think clearly. But the decisions in Clark serve only to stigmatize and marginalize even further a group that needs our help as well as our compassion. We must reexamine the criminal law's insanity jurisprudence. Our unconscious animus toward the mentally ill ill-serves them, and ill-becomes us.

Keywords: insanity, Clark, mental illness, mens rea, moral, cognitive, observational, capacity, evidence, experts, burden shift

JEL Classification: K14, K19, K41

Suggested Citation

Rozelle, Susan D., Fear and Loathing in Insanity Law: Explaining the Otherwise Inexplicable Clark v. Arizona (March 22, 2008). 58 Case Western Reserve Law Review 19 (2007). Available at SSRN:

Susan D. Rozelle (Contact Author)

Stetson University College of Law ( email )

1401 61st Street South
Gulfport, FL 33707
United States

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