US Supreme Court Upholds Abolition Of Insanity Defense By State Of Kansas [Read Judgment]

27 March 2020 7:34 AM GMT
US Supreme Court Upholds Abolition Of Insanity Defense By State Of Kansas [Read Judgment]
"The defense is a project for state governance, not constitutional law."
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The Supreme Court of the United States of America (6-3) has upheld a Kansas State law of the year 1995 abolishing insanity defense by the State of Kansas.

The State of Kansas, unlike many other States in USA, does not wholly exonerate a crime accused on the ground of mental illness. As per the legislation introduced in the year 1995, the State abolished the insanity defense. The criminal defendant's mental disease or defect is relevant to his guilt or innocence only insofar as it shows that he lacked the intent defined as an element of the offense, or mens rea.

The Court was considering an appeal of a man accused of killing four persons, his wife, wife's grandmother and his three children. Before trial, he filed a motion arguing that Kansas's treatment of insanity claims violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. This issue finally reached the Supreme Court of United States, i.e. Whether the Constitution's Due Process Clause compels the acquittal of any defendant who, because of mental illness, could not tell right from wrong when committing his crime.

Justice Kagan, who wrote the opinion for the judgment, answered the issue in the negative.

The Court noted that, under the 1995 law, if a mentally ill defendant had enough cognitive function to form the intent to kill, Kansas law directs a conviction even if he believed the murder morally justified. While upholding the abolition of insanity defence, the Court said:

"Defining the precise relationship between criminal culpability and mental illness involves examining the workings of the brain, the purposes of the criminal law, the ideas of free will and responsibility. It is a project demanding hard choices among values, in a context replete with uncertainty, even at a single moment in time. And it is a project, if any is, that should be open to revision over time, as new medical knowledge emerges and as legal and moral norms evolve. Which is all to say that it is a project for state governance, not constitutional law."

Justice Breyer and two others expressed their dissent. The judge said:

"Finally, Kansas argues that the insane, provided they are capable of intentional action, are culpable and should be held liable for their antisocial conduct. Brief for Respondent 40. To say this, however, is simply to restate the conclusion for which Kansas argues in this case. It is a conclusion that in my view runs contrary to a legal tradition that embodies a fundamental precept of our criminal law and that stretches back, at least, to the origins of our Nation."

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