Kansas case raises ques­tion of fair trial

The Washington Times Weekly - - National -

to show they aren’t crim­i­nally li­able if they do not know the na­ture of their act or couldn’t dif­fer­en­ti­ate right from wrong at the time.

Kansas says it al­lows an in­san­ity de­fense but that it’s mod­i­fied to fo­cus on a crim­i­nal’s in­tent rather than abil­ity to judge.

“Abol­ish­ing the in­san­ity de­fense would mean elim­i­nat­ing any con­sid­er­a­tion of in­san­ity ev­i­dence. That is not what Kansas law does,” the state ar­gued in its brief.

In Kahler’s case, the state points to the fact that he killed his wife but al­lowed his son, who was stand­ing next to his wife at the time, to go un­harmed. That, the state says, shows he was in con­trol of his ac­tions.

The in­san­ity de­fense is dif­fer­ent from com­pe­tency to stand trial. A judge will de­cide whether the ac­cused is of sound enough mind to go through with the trial. That has no bear­ing on guilt or in­no­cence.

In­san­ity, mean­while, is an ar­gu­ment raised by the de­fen­dant dur­ing trial, and the jury is asked to make a de­ter­mi­na­tion about the ac­cused per­son’s san­ity at the time of the crime.

Clark Neily, vice pres­i­dent for crim­i­nal jus­tice at the Cato Institute, said the in­san­ity de­fense is a “long-stand­ing fea­ture” of Amer­i­can and English com­mon law. He said there are hu­man­i­tar­ian rea­sons for not im­pos­ing crim­i­nal li­a­bil­ity on peo­ple suf­fer­ing from men­tal ill­ness.

“It very clearly runs con­trary to a core prin­ci­ple of not only Amer­i­can, but English crim­i­nal law go­ing back for cen­turies,” he said.

One of the most fa­mous ex­am­ples of the in­san­ity de­fense is the case of John Hinck­ley Jr., who tried to as­sas­si­nate Pres­i­dent Ronald Rea­gan based on his ob­ses­sion with ac­tress Jodie Fos­ter. He was hop­ing to get her at­ten­tion.

He was found not guilty by rea­son of in­san­ity and spent more than three decades in a men­tal hospi­tal be­fore a judge ruled that he could be re­leased in 2016.

Out­cry over the case led to the In­san­ity De­fense Re­form Act, which raised the bar at the fed­eral level for de­fen­dants to plead in­san­ity.

Sev­eral states also moved to abol­ish the in­san­ity de­fense in their courts.

Kahler

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