Kansas v. Cheever

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: December 11, 2013
  • Case #: 12-609
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Sotomayor, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
  • Full Text Opinion

The rule in Buchanan v. Kentucky that the state does not violate a defendant’s privilege against self-incrimination when it offers psychological expert testimony derived from the defendant’s statements during a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation for the limited purpose of rebutting a defendant’s “mental status” defense.

Petitioner charged Respondent with capital murder, then dropped that charge. The United States charged Respondent with capital murder under the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994. Respondent intended to raise a voluntary intoxication defense; that he lacked the capacity to form the specific intent. Against Respondent’s wishes, the federal district court ordered that he submit to a psychiatric evaluation with Welner. The United States ceased prosecution during jury selection, and Petitioner again charged Respondent with capital murder. Respondent raised the voluntary intoxication defense at his state trial. Relying on Buchanan v. Kentucky, the trial court permitted Petitioner to offer testimony from Welner, whose testimony was derived from evaluating Respondent’s statements, specifically to rebut Respondent’s psychological expert witness’s testimony. Because Respondent’s witness derived his opinion from statements by Respondent and Welner’s evaluation, Respondent waived his Fifth Amendment privilege against the use of compelled statements—those made during the court-ordered evaluation. Respondent was convicted and appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court, which reversed the trial court. It narrowly interpreted Buchanan as applying only to “mental disease or defect” defenses, but not to Respondent’s defense because Kansas law doesn’t recognize voluntary intoxication as a “mental disease or defect.” The Supreme Court granted certiorari.

The Supreme Court reaffirmed Buchanan, and held that the Kansas Supreme Court applied Buchanan too narrowly to “mental disease or defect” defenses. The Buchanan rule applies to the broader category of “mental status” defenses which rely on psychological expert evidence to including defenses as to mens rea, mental capacity, or the capacity to premeditate; including Respondent’s voluntary intoxication defense. The privilege against self-incrimination prohibits states from offering compelled statements by defendant at trial, but Buchanan v. Kentucky established an exception that when an affirmative defense is raised that relies on psychological expert evidence derived from statements by the defendant, for the limited purpose of rebuttal the state may offer testimony from the person who evaluated the defendant during a compelled, court-ordered psychiatric evaluation. The Supreme Court reasoned that to disallow rebuttal evidence would permit the defendant to offer evidence derived from their statements unilaterally without an opportunity for cross-examination or rebuttal using the defendant’s other statements.

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