Abolishment of Insanity Defense? Kahler vs. Kansas- US Supreme Court

A short time ago, Professor S. Morse, a highly respected lawyer, forensic psychologist, and law professor posted the amicus brief for law professors on the forensic list serve in the case of Kahler vs. Kansas, which will be argued at the US Supreme Court this fall.

The issue is worth attention, especially if you do criminal responsibility evaluations. (All of Professor Morse’s articles, which he has freely shared, are instructive on issues of mental states and criminal conduct). It is also important for thoughtful citizens who care about law and mental health especially in heinous cases that outrage public sensibilities (clearly the case in Kahler).

Kansas has proposed abolishment of the insanity defense and proposed a mens rea test. Kansas argues that a person should be held responsible for their conduct whether they were insane (that is, psychotic) or not. According to this test, if a person intends a criminal act, then they have a guilty mind (guilty mens rea), and should according by found legally responsible for their conduct. This of course overturn hundreds of years of precedent.

In the current political climate and composition of the current Supreme Court, it will be interesting to watch where this one goes. The outcome may have a ripple affect across the whole legal system.

You can see the various amicus briefs submitted in the case at https://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/kahler-v-kansas/

They are fascinating reading (!) The material and arguments are lucid and accessible. There is an interesting commentary on Kahler in the Atlantic.

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/03/4-supreme-court-cases-show-legal-limits-prosecution/585217/

These are issues that have profound consequences for forensic examiners, courts, and thoughtful citizens. Its the biggest thing since Hinckley (when the insanity law was changed across the country following John Hinckley’s failed assassination attempt of President Ronald Reagan and public outrage following his subsequent acquittal by reason of insanity).


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