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Kansas v. Cheever: Meth, Mental Evaluations and the 5th Amendment

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on October 11, 2013 3:13 PM

Remember those criminal cases that you read in Con Law? Well, it's very likely that future editions of the Con Law textbook will include Kansas v. Cheever.

Kansas v. Cheever: Background

Scott Cheever, a methamphetamine user, shot and killed Sheriff Matthew Samuels of Greenwood County, Kansas. Cheever presented a voluntary intoxication defense and argued that because of his drug use, he did not have the appropriate mental state to commit premeditated murder. The court ordered a mental examination by a government-appointed psychiatrist.

At trial, the prosecution sought to impeach Cheever's testimony by admitting the transcript of the mental exam interview into evidence, which the court allowed. After the defense rested, the prosecution called the psychiatrist to testify as a rebuttal witness. Cheever was convicted, and later sentenced to death.

Kansas v. Cheever: Legal Analysis

On appeal to the highest court in Kansas, the Supreme Court of Kansas held that

allowing the State's psychiatric expert . . . to testify based on his court-ordered mental examination of Cheever, when Cheever had not waived his privilege under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution in that examination by presenting a mental disease or defect defense at trial, violated Cheever's privilege against compulsory self-incrimination secured by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Both states' attorneys general and federal governments would like to see the Kansas Supreme Court's decision overturned. On the other hand, the ACLU maintains that to do so, would result in a defendant "forfeit[ing] the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in order to preserve their Eighth Amendment right to present mitigating evidence."

This case brings to light conflicting policy considerations, and interesting theoretical questions about how the Fifth and Eight Amendments intersect. Because of the current Court's leanings, we'd be surprised if the Court found the ACLU's arguments persuasive.

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