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US Supreme Court to Decide Whether States Can Eliminate Insanity Defense


There are several ‘blockbuster’ criminal cases before the U.S. Supreme Court in October; cases that will significantly determine the rights of criminal defendants during trial. One of those cases—Kahler v. Kansas—involves the question of whether a state can abolish the insanity defense, or whether this violates the eighth and/or 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Kahler v. Kansas

Criminal defendant Kraig Kahler was convicted of murdering his ex-wife, two daughters, and ex-mother-in-law in 2009 and sentenced to death in Kansas. During his trial, he was effectively blocked from using the insanity defense via a statute passed by the state of Kansas, which allows defendants to argue that they lacked the mental state that prevented them from forming intent, but not that they are not guilty by virtue of insanity, i.e. that they did not understand the difference between right and wrong when they committed their crime. In the current case before the Court, Kahler argues that this violates the eighth amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and the 14th amendment’s right to due process, and that he should have been able to present the insanity defense because he did not understand the difference between right and wrong when he committed the murders. Kansas responded that Kahler could not be insane because there was evidence that he had the requisite intent to commit the murders. Kansas also claims that it did not violate the U.S. Constitution in abolishing the insanity defense in general; in fact, it simply “refined” the defense because, while the state no longer has an insanity defense, it still allows defendants to present evidence of mental disease or defects in an effort to escape criminal liability.

A number of law professors and philosophers filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that Kansas’ elimination of the insanity defense is indeed unconstitutional because a defendant can form the intent to commit a crime but still lack the ability to tell the difference between right and wrong, and fair societies have never punished those who could not understand the consequences of their actions—i.e. those who are too mentally ill to be held responsible for the crime.

Ramos v. Louisiana

Another case that the justices will be taking up – Ramos v. Louisiana – involves the question of whether the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of your right to an “impartial jury” means a unanimous jury verdict.

Contact Our NYC Criminal Defense Attorney with Any Questions

Presenting the very best criminal defense—from the outset of being charged with a crime—is absolutely crucial in terms of preserving your rights. If you or a loved one has been arrested for a crime in New York, contact our experienced NYC criminal attorneys at the office of Mark I. Cohen, Esq. today to find out how we can help.







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