A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that prosecutors may use evidence from a court-ordered mental evaluation against a capital defendant to rebut the defendant’s own psychiatric testimony.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the court in Kansas v. Cheever, reaffirmed Buchanan v. Kentucky, a 1987 ruling that allowed prosecutors to use that evidence for the limited purpose of rebutting a “mental-status” defense.
“The state permissibly followed where the defense led,” Sotomayor wrote. “Excluding this testimony would have undermined Buchanan and the core truth-seeking function of the trial.”
The court sent the case back to Kansas courts, where lawyers for convicted murderer Scott Cheever will still be able to make a constitutional argument that the prosecutors’ use of the disputed testimony exceeded the scope permitted under the Fifth Amendment.
Cheever’s lawyer, Neal Katyal, declined to comment until he could speak with his client. Katyal, the former acting U.S. solicitor general, is a partner at Hogan Lovells, where he took on the Cheever matter—his first death penalty case—on a pro bono basis.
Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, applauded the Supreme Court ruling. “If the defendant chooses to open the door with his own psychological expert, this evidence must be available to both sides,” Scheidegger said.
Cheever shot and killed a Greenwood County sheriff in 2005 while high on methamphetamines. He was charged with murder, and the case was tried at first in federal court during a period when the Kansas death penalty had been found unconstitutional.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday waded into the emotionally weighted arena of international child abductions in a battle between Columbian parents of a little girl now living in the United States.
In the 102 cases during the past 20 years in which the California Supreme Court reviewed a claim that prosecutors struck prospective jurors on the basis of their race, that court found error only once—and that was 12 years ago. That "improbable record," California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu has observed, was attributable, at least in part, to his court's "erroneous legal framework" for evaluating so-called Batson claims.
Chief Judge Diane Wood of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has dismissed an ethics complaint filed against Judge Diane Sykes for her appearance with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at the Federalist Society's annual dinner Nov. 14.
The unanimous decision written by Justice Samuel Alito is a decision that lawyers and judges will actually love because it settles real world problems of forum shopping in a clear, fair and sensible manner.
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