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High Court Reinstates Kansan’s Death Sentence

(CN) - The prosecution's introduction of a court-ordered psychological examination to rebut the testimony of a defense expert did not unfairly force the defendant in a capital murder case to incriminate himself, the Supreme Court ruled.

Scott Cheever shot and killed the sheriff of Greenwood County, Kan., after getting high on methamphetamine in January 2005. He had also shot at other law enforcement officers.

Shortly after Cheever was charged with capital murder, the Kansas Supreme Court found the state's death penalty scheme unconstitutional, and state prosecutors dismissed their charges to allow federal authorities to prosecute him.

In the federal case, Cheever filed notice that he intended to introduce expert evidence showing his methamphetamine use rendered him incapable of acting with premeditation and deliberation. In response, the trial court ordered a psychiatric examination, and prosecutors used this study to impeach Cheever's testimony.

However, the federal case was eventually dismissed, and the state brought a second prosecution.

During this trial, Cheever raised a "voluntary intoxication" defense, offering expert testimony regarding his methamphetamine use. Roswell Lee Evans, a specialist in psychiatric pharmacy and dean of the Auburn University School of Pharmacy, opined that Cheever's long-term methamphetamine use had damaged his brain. Evans also testified that on the morning of the shooting, Cheever was acutely intoxicated.

According to Evans, Cheever's actions were "very much influenced by" his use of methamphetamine.

After the defense rested, the state sought to present rebuttal testimony by the expert who examined Cheever by order of the federal court.

Cheever's counsel objected, arguing that because the expert's opinions were based in part on an examination to which his client had not voluntarily agreed, his testimony would violate the Fifth Amendment proscription against compelling an accused to testify against himself.

The state countered that the testimony was necessary to rebut Cheever's voluntary-intoxication defense.

Ultimately, a jury convicted Cheever of capital murder, four counts of attempted capital murder, criminal possession of a firearm based on a previous felony conviction for aggravated robbery and manufacture of methamphetamine.

He was sentenced to death, but the Kansas Supreme Court reversed the murder and attempted murder convictions in September 2012.

In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Supreme Court on Wednesday vacated the Kansas Supreme Court decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.

In doing so, Justice Sotomayor said the court was reaffirming its holding in Buchanan v. Kentucky, in which it said a state may introduce the results of such an examination for the limited purpose of rebutting a mental-status defense.

"In Buchanan, we addressed the admissibility of evidence from a court-ordered evaluation where ... a defendant had introduced psychiatric evidence related to his mental-status defense," Sotomayor wrote. "We held that the Fifth Amendment allowed the prosecution to present evidence from the evaluation to rebut the defendant's affirmative defense of extreme emotional disturbance. And while, as Cheever notes, the mental evaluation in Buchanan was requested jointly by the defense and the government, our holding was not limited to that circumstance."

"Moreover, contrary to Cheever's suggestion, the case did not turn on whether state law referred to extreme emotional disturbance as an 'affirmative defense'" the justice continued. "The rule of Buchanan, which we reaffirm today, is that where a defense expert who has examined the defendant testifies that the defendant lacked the requisite mental state to commit an offense, the prosecution may present psychiatric evidence in rebuttal.

"Any other rule would undermine the adversarial process, allowing a defendant to provide the jury, through an expert operating as proxy, with a one-sided and potentially inaccurate view of his mental state at the time of the alleged crime," Sotomayor wrote.

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