Using 'PANDAS' as a defense would be tough sell, expert says

SALEM, Ore. - The student accused of planning a bomb attack at West Albany High School will be in court again next week.

Investigators found a cache of explosives at Grant Acord's home. When he appeared via video in court Tuesday he did not enter a plea to the charges against him. But in a statement, his mother has put the focus on a condition called PANDAS.

Could that condition play into a court case if there is a trial?

Laura Appleman, a law professor at Willamette University, said it will likely come into play during the sentencing phase of a trial if Acord is found guilty.

PANDAS is an acronym for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcus. It is a form of sudden-onset obsessive compulsive disorder brought on by infection. It can cause obsessive compulsion and mood swings.

Appleman said the defense could take PANDAS and argue Acord was not "fully mentally competent" while allegedly planning to bomb the school. If he is found guilty, it could get him a reduced sentence.

But using PANDAS to argue he's not guilty would be tricky.

"The prosecution will understandably object to having any of that medical evidence brought in if they do not have their own chance to have him seen by a state psychiatrist," Appleman said.

She said in Oregon, diminished capacity, the insanity plea, is a tough sell.

"Simply having mental illness, even having quite a bit of mental illness is usually not enough," she said.

In fact, getting PANDAS to play any role in the trial would be difficult.

"To show diminished capacity you have to show that you have a very severe mental illness that cannot be treated at all," she said.

She said she doesn't know of any legal precedent for using a form of OCD as a defense against pre-mediated actions.