State Bar to Insanity Defense Faces Supreme Court Review

A police officer guards the main entrance to the Supreme Court in Washington on Oct. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON (CN) – A man who was barred from pleading insanity after killing his two daughters, his wife and her grandmother persuaded the Supreme Court on Monday to hear his Eighth Amendment challenge.

As alleged in his petition for certiorari, Kraig Kahler committed the murders here around Thanksgiving 2009. Kahler, who is represented by attorneys at Sidley Austin, says his wife had been cheating on him, making him so severely depressed “that he experienced extreme emotional disturbance, dissociating him from reality.”

“Although he knew that he was shooting human beings, his mental state was so disturbed at the time that he was unable to control his actions,” the petition states. “If these events had taken place in any of the 46 states (or the District of Columbia) that recognize an insanity defense, Mr. Kahler would have been able to adduce evidence to show that his mental state prevented him from conforming his actions to the law. Instead, he was convicted of capital murder— and sentenced to death.”

Kansas barred Kahler’s insanity defense pursuant to 1996 law that says mental illness cannot excuse a defendant from knowing his actions were wrong.

Per its custom, the Supreme Court did not issue any comment in granting Kahler a writ of certiorari this morning.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt expressed confidence Monday that the Supreme Court will rule against Kahler. 

“We think the state’s approach, providing for an insanity defense based on mental disease or defect, satisfies constitutional requirements,” Schmidt said in a statement. “We look forward to defending the statute and arguing our case before the justices in the fall.”

Jeffrey Green at Sidley Austin declined to comment.

Also on Monday the Supreme Court agreed to take up a case that could require unanimous jury verdicts, which are the law of the land everywhere but Oregon and Louisiana.

The appeal here comes from Louisiana where a jury convicted Evangelisto Ramos of murdering Trinece Fedison, whose body was found in a trash can in New Orleans.

Although two jurors of the 12 jurors in the case questioned whether the government had proved Ramos’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, Louisiana law required that a guilty verdict be entered.

In 2017, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal supported the constitutionality of nonunanimous verdicts, and the Louisiana Supreme Court declined to review the holding.

Represented by the Promise of Justice Initiative, Ramos claimed in his petition for certiorari last year that the state based its case against him on purely circumstantial evidence.

“The law is clear: under the Sixth Amendment, a unanimous jury is required,” his petition states. “The vast majority of the Bill of Rights have been fully incorporated and made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.” 

Per its custom, the Supreme Court did not issue any comment in taking up the case. 

Orleans Parish prosecutors have not returned a request for comment, but Ben Cohen, a lawyer at the Promise of Justice Initiative in New Orleans, expressed optimism about making his case in Washington.

“We are hopeful the court took the case to restore the full protections of the Constitution to the state of Louisiana,” Cohen said in an email. 

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