Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Supreme Court Won't Hear Insanity Defense Case

The Supreme Court yesterday declined an opportunity to rule on whether criminal defendants have a legal right to invoke an insanity defense. This decision leaves in place an Idaho law that abolished the option of an insanity defense in trials in that state. Attorneys for convicted murderer John Delling had wanted to use an insanity defense since Delling, age 21 at the time of his trial, appeared paranoid and delusional, insisting that the men he killed were trying to steal his "energy." Unable to invoke an insanity defense, Delling pleaded guilty to murder and is serving a life sentence. He appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court arguing that the state's law abridged his right to present evidence in his own defense, but that court upheld Delling's conviction. Three of the Court's liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor, voted in favor of hearing this case, but at least four justices must vote to do so.

In July APA and the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (AAPL) submitted an amicus brief supporting Delling's argument that he has a legal right to use an insanity defense and that the state cannot deny him that right. Idaho, Kansas, Montana, and Utah have passed laws abolishing the insanity defense. Paul Appelbaum, M.D., the Dollard Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine, and Law at Columbia University and chair of the APA Committee on Judicial Action, told Psychiatric News, "The Court's decision not to hear Delling leaves open the question of whether the insanity defense is constitutionally required for another day. We are encouraged that three justices voted to hear the case and that they cited the APA brief in support of their argument."

Read more about the Delling case and the APA/AAPL amicus brief in Psychiatric News

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