Plaintiff contends insanity defense is a fundamental aspect of American justice and cannot be restricted…
(David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times) WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court agreed Monday to finally decide whether rights to a unanimous jury verdict and an insanity defense are constitutional requirements that apply nationwide.
Most states, but not all, permit criminal defendants to plead insanity and escape the full punishment of the law on the grounds that they did not know right from wrong at the time of the crime.
Kansas says defendants may cite a “mental disease or defect” as a defense, but they may be found guilty nonetheless if they intended to commit a violent crime.
The court said it would hear an appeal from James Kahler, who shot and killed two of his daughters, his ex-wife and her grandmother, and sought to plead insanity.
He claimed that he had sunk into hopeless depression after his marriage collapsed.
But a state expert testified that Kahler planned the murders.
He was convicted and sentenced to death, despite his insanity plea.
His appeal in Kahler v. Kansas argues that the insanity defense is a fundamental aspect of American justice and cannot be restricted or abolished by the states.
His lawyers said Alaska, Montana, Idaho and Utah also limited the use of insanity as a defense to a crime.
The justices will also hear the case of Ramos v. Louisiana to decide whether a jury must be unanimous to hand down a guilty verdict.
A jury in New Orleans convicted Evangelisto Ramos, by a 10-2 vote, of murdering a prostitute.
The state has since adopted a requirement of unanimous juries beginning this year, but the court will decide whether this is a constitutional requirement.
Only Oregon continues to permit verdicts where the jury is not unanimous.
In a third criminal case, the justices will decide whether Lee Boyd Malvo will serve life in prison for his role in the 2002 sniper shootings in the Washington area.
John Allen Muhammad was convicted of the shootings and was executed in Virginia for his crimes.
Malvo, who was then 17, was sentenced to life in prison with no chance for parole.
The Supreme Court later put new limits on life prison terms for those who commit murders as a juvenile, and the court in Mathena v. Malvo will decide whether those rulings apply retroactively to those already serving life terms.
©2019 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.