As more information trickles out to the media about the private life of Jared Loughner, it’s become apparent how severely unhinged and divorced from reality he was. Charles Krauthammer, a certified psychiatrist, noted yesterday that Loughner fits the textbook description of a paranoid schizophrenic, and he wasn’t the first commentator to reach that conclusion.
But what exactly will Loughner’s mental state mean for his trial? And how much of a chance is there that he’ll get a reduced sentence or not-guilty verdict by reason of insanity?
After John Hinkley was acquitted of shooting President Reagan by reason of insanity, it’s become much more difficult to mount that type of defense. At the Daily Caller, Alexis Levinson sheds some light on the three-step process:
First, “you have to have a mental disease or defect—you have to qualify,” [attorney Robert Delahunt Jr.] explained. This is not as simple as it seems, he said, because someone “can be mentally ill and it’s not a disease or defect as diagnosed by experts.” Or, there could be disagreement between experts. There “can be something wrong with this guy, can have an anxiety disorder, one expert will say it is a mental defect, one expert will say it isn’t.” …
If a defendant can get past this first hurdle, the second thing is to prove that the mental defect was relevant to the action — that “it was a big deal in his decision-making; it was a significant influence; it was the predominant impulse governing his behavior, shaping his decisions,” Delahunt said, as opposed being just a “distraction.” …[Third], it is important to note that the defense need only prove that the defendant was either unable to “conform” to societal standards, or that he or she was unable to “appreciate the wrongfulness of his or her actions.” One or the other is sufficient to raise the issue of insanity.
Attorneys Levinson spoke to noted that it’s extremely difficult to prove that a client meets all three requirements. These types of pleas are also problematic because they can imply an admission of guilt.
Of course, admitting guilt may not be a huge risk for Loughner’s defense team. Attorneys who spoke to the Washington Post said that his culpability is probably not going to be much of a question during the trial:
“Guilt is not the issue here. Everyone saw him do it; he was stopped there. There’s just no question,” said Jonathan Shapiro, a Fairfax County death penalty expert who defended Washington area sniper John Allen Muhammad. “The issue is his mental state, and the sole goal is to avoid the death penalty.”
And since the facts of the case aren’t widely disputed, it’s much more likely that Loughner’s defense team will use his mental illness in order to get a reduced sentence. Loughner’s attorney, Judy Clarke — who opposes capital punishment — is known for helping her mass-murdering clients avoid the death penalty. According to the Post, Clarke will be sure to dig into the obscure details of her client’s life in an attempt to prove he was suffering from an extensive mental illness when he opened fire on the crowded political event. So get used to hearing about Loughner’s bizarre behavior once the trial gets underway.