Justices weigh in on insanity defense
by Harvest Prude
Posted 3/24/20, 11:50 am
WASHINGTON—States do not have to stick to a particular insanity test in criminal cases, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 on Monday. Lawyers for James Kahler, who shot and killed four members of his family in 2009 in Burlingame, Kan., argued that the state of Kansas violated his due process rights by rejecting his argument that his depression made him unable to distinguish right from wrong.
Why did the justices side with the state? “Kansas takes account of mental health at both trial and sentencing,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the opinion. “It has just not adopted the particular insanity defense Kahler would like. That choice is for Kansas to make.” The state allows defendants to argue they could not have intended to commit the crime due to mental illness, but juries and judges can still hold them criminally responsible. The five conservative justices agreed with Kagan. The other three liberal justices dissented.
Dig deeper: Read Marvin Olasky’s analysis of another high-profile use of the insanity defense in a murder case. His take: “Insanity defenses are Biblically problematic.”
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Harvest is a reporter for WORLD based in Washington, D.C.