Kansas case raises question of fair trial
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.