Supreme Court to Review Protection Against Self-Incrimination in Kansas Death Case

On February 25, the U.S Supreme Court agreed to review a decision by the Kansas Supreme Court overturning the conviction and death sentence of Scott Cheever, who killed a sheriff during a drug investigation. Cheever argued that his own drug use made it impossible for him to have killed with premeditation, a factor necessary for a capital murder conviction. The case had been previously charged in federal court. In that case, the trial judge had ordered a mental health evaluation because Cheever was similarly claiming a lack of intent due to drug use. The federal charges were eventually dismissed, and the state took up the prosecution. At the state trial, the prosecution used Cheever’s statements during the mental evaluation to rebut his claim of incapacity. The Kansas Supreme Court held that to be a violation of Cheever’s 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Generally, statements from a state mental health evaluation may only be used against the defendant if he has raised a defense based on a mental disease or defect. The Kansas Court held that Cheever’s claim of drug use was not such a defense. The case, Kansas v. Cheever, No. 12-609, will be argued in the fall.

The Supreme Court agreed to address two issues:

1. When a criminal defendant affirmatively introduces expert testimony that he lacked the requisite mental state to commit capital murder of a law enforcement officer due to the alleged temporary and long-term effects of the defendant’s methamphetamine use, does the state violate the defendant’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination by rebutting the defendant’s mental state defense with evidence from a court-ordered mental evaluation of the defendant?

2. When a criminal defendant testifies in his own defense, does the State violate the Fifth Amendment by impeaching such testimony with evidence from a court-ordered mental evaluation of the defendant?

The case was originally prosecuted in state court. However, Kansas’s death penalty was ruled unconstitutional by the Kansas Supreme Court, so the federal government took over the case and pursued the death penalty. Subsequently, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the Kansas death penalty, (see Kansas v. Marsh), and the federal charges gave way to the state case.

(B. Leonard, “Justices to Look at Meth User’s Competency Exam,” Courthouse News, February 25, 2013; Kansas v. Cheever, No. 12-609, cert. granted Feb. 25, 2013). See U.S. Supreme Court and Mental Illness.