Average Joe SCOTUS: Kahler v. Kansas

Oof, this one is hard to swallow. This piece of shit Kahler was married with two children. His wife eventually had an affair, and Kahler reacted to this information by going down a hole of depression and anger, which is to be expected.

Kahler went to see several mental health professionals who diagnosed him, and prescribed medications to help him deal with the rage he was feeling, but Kahler didn’t take them.

Eventually, Kahler went to his wife’s mom’s house, where they were visiting, and murdered everyone. The wife, two kids, and the grandmother.

He was found guilty and sentenced to death. I’ll save my opinions on the death penalty for a separate post sometime, but if anyone ever deserved it, he made a strong argument that a needle in his arm wouldn’t be a bad societal outcome.

Kahler’s lawyer, doing her level best to help his client, opted to use an insanity defense. But Kansas doesn’t allow an insanity defense in the traditional sense you have to know right from wrong. In Kansas, you’d have to show you didn’t even know you were killing someone.

So since Kahler and his lawyer are trying to get him out of being executed, here we are at SCOTUS to determine if Kansas has a right to abolish the insanity defense in regards to the 8th and tenth amendments.

His lawyer, in her brief, tried to show how he was insane. In one oddly humorous exchange:

John G. Roberts, Jr.

The things that I think are underlying a lot of the debate is the expansive notion of what counts as evidence.

In your brief, you say the defendant in this case was—this is evidence to support his insanity claim, was described by some as a tightwad who would, for example, borrow rather than purchase tools. And in the same page, again, this is evidence that you selected in the — to put in your brief of his mental disorder, that he thrived on self-importance, community prestige, and being perceived as having an ideal or perfect marriage. Now, maybe that’s not the best way to order your life, but if that’s what you mean by insanity, you can understand why that might cause some reservations.

Sarah Schrup

Your Honor, Mr. Chief Justice, let me just tell you why those facts are in there and why they’re not — why they’re there and that will shed light on it. What we know is that Mr. Kahler had a major depressive disorder.

He had a qualifying mental illness.

Those facts are in there to show that there was an entire other category of evidence that, in combination with that major depressive disorder, could have been been developed.

John G. Roberts, Jr.

But that he —

Sarah Schrup

But it doesn’t —

John G. Roberts, Jr.

— borrows tools instead of purchasing them? That sounds like the reasonable option. (Laughter.)

During arguments for the respondant (Kansas), Justice Breyer asked:

Stephen G. Breyer

I know these are words, you see, I want it looking for something in terms of criminal law or legal purpose or human purpose or whatever that would treat the two — why treat them differently? One answer you’ve given, you said it’s so hard to figure out.

I agree it’s hard to get a definition.

That’s going to be true in both cases. You say criminal, corporate criminal liability, and regulatory offenses.

I agree with you, you’d have to carve out exceptions and that is not easy to do.

Okay? I’ve got those points. But I’m looking for something different between the two defendants.

The dog, there he is, the dog, he told me to do it.

They are both crazy. And why does Kansas say one is guilty, the other is not guilty?

There was an exchange, but eventually Kansas’ argument was as follows.

Toby Crouse

So — and I apologize for not getting to the answer of your question.

I think that the problem is that states have grappled with this and they’ve made different moral judgments as to who is morally responsible or not.

And this Court’s cases allow the state legislatures or federal Congress to determine whether that person should be or should not be held responsible. What Kansas does is it identifies those who intend to commit a crime, punishes those.

I think it’s a spectrum as to what the states believe is appropriate. In Delaware, for example, my understanding is that individual would not be convicted, whereas in Illinois that person could be convicted because they know that shooting a human being is legally wrong.

After Toby Cruise completed his arguments for Kansas, co-counsel said the following in response to Breyer’s question.

Elizabeth B. Prelogar

So these are obviously difficult questions, Justice Breyer.

They’re ones that societies have wrestled with for centuries in trying to balance the medical and moral and legal judgments that go into crafting an insanity rule. This Court has long recognized that states have principal responsibility to do that. And I think that there are various ways states could decide that they want to distinguish between those two defendants. For one thing that cognitive incapacity test which focuses on whether the individual thinks that the person he shot was a dog, might be an easier inquiry for juries to undertake.

It might be a more readily-observable sign of mental illness and less likely to lead to confusion about what was actually in the defendant’s mind and whether he was considering right versus wrong. A jurisdiction might also think that looking at considerations of individual culpability, they don’t want an on/off switch for criminal responsibility but, rather, want to shift those considerations to the sentencing stage where a judge can take evidence and make a more nuanced determination of individual culpability.

When Kahler got their chance to rebut, they were clear they believed these “dog” arguments by Kansas were completely arbitrary, and therefore bullshit.

There’s a phenomenal video from The Federalist Society you can watch that explains this principle here.

Anyway, back to SCOTUS. 6:3 in favor of Kansas. It may, within the framework of the constitution, apply it’s own unique test on an insanity defense. Breyer, Sotomayor, and Ginsburg however felt that Kansas’ law effectively eliminated the core of the insanity defense, and therefore shouldn’t be allowed. But no one cares, because they’re in the minority.

Drop some genius on me here.

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