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Smith v. State

Supreme Court of Alaska
614 P.2d 300 (1980)


At the time of this case, Alaska law provided that a person was legally insane if he lacked substantial capacity either to understand that his conduct was wrong or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. Smith (defendant) was an army private stationed at a military base in Alaska. Although he usually followed orders, Smith had disciplinary problems and he was sent to a mental health clinic because of his apathetic behavior. At an initial examination, the clinic found that Smith had no mental problems and he was returned to duty. When Smith continued to behave unsatisfactorily, he was sent back to the clinic, which recommended his discharge. On the morning of September 28, Smith was informed he would be discharged in about a week. Shortly afterward, Smith entered a supply room, announced that he was leaving for the airport, took out a gun and demanded a car. Wells, a sergeant, obtained the keys to a truck and gave them to Smith, but refused Smith’s request to drive him to the airport. Smith proceeded to drive the car through the gates of the base and then headed toward Seward, away from the airport. Smith was pursued by several police cars and eventually pulled off to the side of the road and ran into the woods. Jordan, one of the pursuing officers, saw Smith lying on the ground with his gun pointed at him. When Jordan ordered Smith to freeze, Smith shot and wounded Jordan, who nevertheless shot and wounded Smith. Smith was captured and charged with shooting to kill, wound or maim Jordan. Smith pled insanity and was examined by three doctors, Robinson, Langdon and Rader, all of whom subsequently testified at Smith’s trial. All three agreed that Smith was schizophrenic but that he had the capacity to distinguish right from wrong. Robinson and Langdon believed that Smith was delusional and lacked the capacity to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law, but Rader testified that Smith had Ganzer syndrome, a condition in which people deliberately attempt to appear insane in order to gain some advantage. Rader believed that Smith had a goal, to leave the service, and intentionally behaved badly to get discharged. Rader also testified that Smith made some bad judgments during his escape, but in general behaved in a reasonable and consistent manner in his effort to achieve his goal of escaping. Testimony from lay witnesses supported Rader’s opinion. The trial court found that Smith was legally sane and he was convicted. After the appellate court affirmed the conviction, Smith appealed to the Supreme Court of Alaska.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Rabinowitz, C.J.)

Dissent (Boochever, J.)

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