The Supreme Court Let States Kill the Insanity Defense
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On Monday, the Supreme Court dealt a death blow to the insanity defense. Justice Elena Kagan joined the five Republican-appointed justices in Kahler v. Kansas to uphold a murder conviction and death sentence for James Kahler, who killed his estranged wife and her family. He wanted to argue at trial that he was not guilty of the murder charges because severe mental illness kept him from thinking or acting rationally at the time. But in 1995, Kansas had changed its criminal law in a way that prevented Kahler from raising the insanity defense.
There is no universal test for the insanity defense, but in many states, a defendant who suffers from a mental illness must be acquitted if, at the time she committed her crime, she either did not know what she was doing or she did not know that what she was doing was wrong. A handful of states have abolished the defense. In those states, mentally ill people who commit crimes may be convicted even if they had no control or understanding of their actions at the time.
In his petition to the Supreme Court, Kahler asked whether the due process clause allows states to “abolish the insanity defense.” This is a tricky argument to make. Most due process arguments are about process, but Kahler’s argument was about substance—it sought limits on a state’s ability to define crimes. The Supreme Court has previously said that a state law about crimes and defenses can violate due process only if it “offends some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental.” In other words, the test is whether the state rule conflicts with another rule that is so old and so important that it is incompatible with the basic idea of “due process of law.”
Most criminal law rules probably aren’t old enough or important enough to be called “fundamental.” But the insanity defense is that old and important. In fact, the majority opinion in Kahler seems to admit as much, saying “Kahler is right that for hundreds of years jurists and judges have recognized insanity (however defined) as relieving responsibility for a crime.” Indeed, the majority opinion said that the court did not find “a single case” that did not recognize the insanity defense.
I think the Justice system is about a century behind the science especially when it comes to mental health. I highly recommend 2 documentaries – both on Netflix. The 13th about the 13th amendment & mass incarceration & Survivor’s Guide to Prison which has David Sirota in it as well as produced & partly narrated by Susan Surandon.
March 25, 2020 at 4:26 PM #292397EnthusiastParticipant
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Bad decision. But not at all surprising. Even Obama’s right wing appointment joined in. Obama = POS.
I would like to remind you that U.S. health insurance companies do not contribute anything to health care. They are only a PARASITIC middle man receiving an undeserved cut of "FREE MONEY".
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