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Evidence of Premeditation Could Harm Insanity Case for Alleged Ariz. Shooter

Posted Jan 11, 2011 10:17 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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An insanity defense could face some difficult hurdles in the guilt phase of a federal trial for Tucson, Ariz., shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner.

Loughner had apparently planned the killing, prosecution documents allege, and experts say that could pose problems under the federal insanity standard, report the Associated Press and Politics Daily.

According to an FBI affidavit, an envelope found in Loughner’s home contained the words, “I planned ahead,” “My assassination” and “Giffords.” Loughner is accused of targeting U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who remains hospitalized after the shooting spree that killed six others, including U.S. District Judge John Roll.

The federal insanity standard was revised to make it more difficult to win acquittal after John Hinckley used the claim in his trial for shooting Ronald Reagan, according to the Associated Press story. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz told AP that evidence of premeditation could have been used to support insanity under the old standard, but it’s “a very uphill battle” under the new law.

Legal analyst Andrew Cohen sets out the federal insanity standard in an article for Politics Daily: The defendant must show by "clear and convincing evidence" that "at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the defendant, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts." Under this language, evidence of advance planning could be used to show Loughner knew he was about to commit a wrongful act.

Evidence of mental problems, however, would more likely be “a vital factor” in the sentencing phase of the trial, Cohen writes, where it could be used in mitigation.

Previous coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Stunned Federal Judges in Ariz. Mourn Slain Chief, Wonder How to Deal With Increased Workload”

ABAJournal.com: "Federal Judge John Roll Killed in Attack that Targeted Congresswoman"

ABAJournal.com: "Judge Killed in Ariz. Shooting Spree Had Issued Several Controversial Decisions"

ABAJournal.com: "PD Who Defended Ted Kaczynski Will Reportedly Represent Suspect in Ariz. Shooting Spree"

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