The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider whether a teenager convicted of killing an Arizona police officer had a fair chance to argue that he was insane, renewing debate about insanity defenses.
Justices over the past decade have repeatedly declined to consider cases involving insanity claims.
In a surprise, the court said this time that it would take up the case of Eric Michael Clark, who has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He was 17 when he shot Officer Jeff Moritz during a traffic stop in Flagstaff, Arizona, on June 21, 2000.
There was evidence that Clark believed his town had been taken over by aliens and that he was being held captive and tortured before the killing.
His lawyer, David Goldberg, told justices that the state insanity laws are unconstitutional because they restrict what evidence can be introduced at trial.
"This court has never directly addressed this issue of national importance," Goldberg said.
Arizona changed its laws after John Hinckley's acquittal by reason of insanity in the March 1981 shooting of President Reagan and three others outside a Washington hotel.
Lawyers for the state of Arizona had urged justices to reject Clark's appeal, on grounds that his lawyers did not properly contest the law at the time.
Arguments will be held next spring.