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15 Duke J. Const. L. & Pub. Pol'y Sidebar 43 (2020)
Kahler v. Kansas: The End of the Insanity Defense?

handle is hein.journals/dukjppsid15 and id is 43 raw text is: 


                        ERIC ROYTMAN*

   For centuries, American and English courts refused to assign
criminal liability to defendants who, because of mental illness, did not
understand the wrongfulness of their actions. Hundreds of years before
the Framers were born, English courts widely recognized a mentally ill
defendant's right to avoid criminal liability when he lacked moral
understanding. From the American Revolution to the turn of the
twenty-first century, courts in every jurisdiction in America widely
recognized this right as well.
   In 1995, Kansas, along with a small number of other states, passed a
statute abrogating the widely recognized common law insanity defense.
At common law, a defendant could raise the defense when a mental
illness impaired his ability to distinguish right from wrong, allowing him
to escape liability even when the elements of the crime were otherwise
fulfilled. However, under Kansas' statutory scheme, evidence of a
defendant's mental illness can only be used to negate the mens rea
element of the offense. In other words, evidence of mental illness is only
relevant when it shows that the defendant lacked the intent to commit
the act itself, regardless of whether he believed that act was moral. In
Kansas, a defendant driven by mental illness to intentionally harm
another has no viable path to acquittal at trial, even when his mental
illness caused him to believe his actions were morally right.
   In Kahler v. Kansas,' the Supreme Court will consider the
constitutionality of Kansas's statutory scheme. The Court's decision in
this case will have profound implications for how courts deal with
defendants struggling with mental illness. A decision to uphold
Kansas's statute could be interpreted as a green light for other states to

Copyright ©D 2020 Eric Roytman
J.D. Candidate, Duke University School of Law, Class of 2021.
    1. 139 S. Ct. 1318 (2019).

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