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Saturday, July 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Idaho’s Insanity Defense Change Won’t Get Review

WASHINGTON (CN) - Three justices wailed Monday that U.S. Supreme Court has refused to evaluate a modification Idaho adopted for criminal defendants who claim insanity to avoid the death penalty.

The three-page dissent notes that Idaho is one of several states to have modified the traditional insanity defense, which holds "that criminal punishment is not appropriate for those who, by reason of insanity, cannot tell right from wrong."

"Indeed, Idaho provides that '[m]ental condition shall not be a defense to any charge of criminal conduct,'" Justice Stephen Breyer wrote, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

He added: "the difference between the traditional insanity defense and Idaho's standard is that the latter permits the conviction of an individual who knew what he was doing, but had no capac­ity to understand that it was wrong." (Emphasis in original.)

Breyer's dissent was sparked by the court's refusal to entertain the petition for certiorari submitted by Idaho prisoner John Delling, who said that Idaho's modification of the insanity defense conflicts with the due pro­cess clause of the 14th Amendment.

Quoting briefs submitted to the court by amici curaie, or friends of the court, Breyer said that "the American Psychiatric Association tells us that 'severe mental illness can seriously impair a sufferer'sability rationally to appreciate the wrongfulness of con­duct.'"

"And other amici tell us that those seri­ously mentally ill individuals often possess the kind of mental disease that ... [in which] they know that the victim is a human being, but due to mental illness, such as a paranoid delusion, they wrongly believe the act is justified," he added.

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