By Laura Karas
The Supreme Court this term faces a difficult question: Is it unconstitutional for a state to abolish the insanity defense? In the case before the court, Kahler v. Kansas, a plaintiff who suffered from multiple psychiatric disorders, including severe depression, shot and killed his wife, two daughters, and mother-in-law. He was denied the opportunity to present an insanity defense under Kansas law and was sentenced to death. Kansas is one of four states to have abolished the insanity defense, along with Idaho, Montana, and Utah.
The insanity defense in its modern form contains two prongs. First, a person is not responsible for his criminal conduct if he could not “conform his conduct” to the requirements of the law due to mental illness. This prong is sometimes referred to as the volitional prong of the insanity defense. Second, a person is not responsible for his criminal conduct if, due to mental illness, he could not appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions. Since the 1980s, many states have rejected the volitional prong of the insanity defense, and some states, such as Kansas, have gone so far as to abolish the insanity defense entirely. Read More