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Monday, July 15, 2013

Zimmerman v. Clark

As a mental health law person, I'm amazed that the state in Zimmerman had to disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt and that this seems to be the rule in nearly every state.  I didn't realize every crime had a hidden element: roughly, that the defendant was not in fear.  In contrast, many crimes have an express intent element: the defendant must have intended the result or at least to act.  Some defendants cannot form the requisite intent due to mental health conditions.  In several states, however, the best evidence of such conditions cannot be used to negate intent. Clark v. Arizona, 548 U.S. 735 (2006). Instead, it can only be used to show insanity, which is usually tougher to show and where the burden rests squarely on the defendant.  I don't know how I feel about self-defense, but Clark seems plainly wrong.

Posted by Fredrick Vars on July 15, 2013 at 04:22 PM | Permalink

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I understand the rhetorical point, but fear alone does not a prima facie self defense case make.

The bloodied face, the 911 call screams for help, the grass stains, and the witness accounts---- any one of these would work, and are *real facts in the world* that go beyond "fear."

Posted by: AndyK | Jul 15, 2013 5:24:25 PM

It is almost always the case that people with mental illness can form the mens rea of any statute, particularly if the statute simply requires an intentional act. Stephen Morse has written extensively on this.

Posted by: justme | Jul 15, 2013 7:46:26 PM

And people with mental illness have a right to self-defense. Do they have a right to guns for such purpose? Even felons have a right to self-defense. So should everyone have a right to guns for such purpose? The Supreme Court has yet to be heard from since Heller and McDonald on Justice Scalia's dicta. Some states may follow Scalia's dicta but states may not be required to do so under the federalism/libertrian approach of the 2nd Amendment.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | Jul 18, 2013 8:23:05 AM

" but fear alone does not a prima facie self defense case make"

If it is reasonable fear of severe or life threatening injury, a normative judgement the jury makes, I believe it of course it does. Why shouldn't it?

One important aspect of the SYG law, which I understand to be in force even if the suspect doesn't claim it, is this:

The police should not charge anyone without evidence of guilt. A claim of self defense

Posted by: Tom Perkins | Jul 21, 2013 12:38:36 PM

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