SCOTUS issues decision regarding insanity defense in criminal cases

On March 23, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued its opinion in the case Kahler v. Kansas.

The case: James Kahler was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. On appeal, Kahler argued the prosecution violated his right to a fair trial. The Kansas Supreme Court rejected Kahler’s argument, affirming his conviction and sentence. Kahler appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that Kansas law violates his constitutional rights under the Eighth and 14th Amendments.

The issue: Do the Eighth and 14th Amendments permit a state to abolish the insanity defense?

The outcome: In a 6-3 ruling, the court affirmed the decision of the Kansas Supreme Court, holding that due process does not require Kansas to adopt an insanity test that turns on a defendant’s ability to recognize that their crime was morally wrong. Justice Elena Kagan delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Stephen Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

As of March 23, 2020, the court had issued decisions in 16 cases this term. Between 2007 and 2018, SCOTUS released opinions in 924 cases, averaging between 70 and 90 cases per year.




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Kate Carsella

Kate Carsella is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

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