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High Court to Consider if States Can Abolish Insanity Defense (1)

March 18, 2019, 2:01 PMUpdated: March 18, 2019, 3:58 PM

A convicted murderer who wasn’t allowed to present an insanity defense under Kansas law will get to make his case at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The justices on March 18 granted review of Kraig Kahler’s case against the state. It will be argued next term, which begins in October.

Beyond just his case, Kahler says the insanity defense is one that will continue to be raised in court due to the unfortunate prevalence of mental illness.

Kahler was sentenced to death for killing four family members “while suffering from depression so severe that he experienced extreme emotional disturbance, dissociating him from reality,” his petition says.

“Criminally punishing people like Mr. Kahler delegitimizes our criminal justice system,” he argues in a followup filing.

Kansas is one of five states that don’t allow a defense to criminal liability on the basis of a mental illness that prevented the defendant from knowing his actions were wrong, according to the petition.

The justices will consider whether the 14th and Eighth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution require such a defense to be available.

The state contests that it has abolished the insanity defense, yet it maintains that states have “wide latitude in determining the extent to which mental illness may excuse criminal liability.”

The case is Kahler v. Kansas, U.S., No. 18-6135, review granted 3/18/19.

(Adds more background on the issue, links to docket and filings. )

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick L. Gregory in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Crawley at; Jessie Kokrda Kamens at