Kansas v. Cheever: Supreme Court Issues Key Fifth Amendment Decision
The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued one of its first Fifth Amendment decisions of the October 2013 Term. In Kansas v. Cheever, the justices unanimously ruled that prosecutors could introduce evidence of a court-ordered mental evaluation in a death penalty case to rebut the defendant’s own testimony regarding his psychiatric state.
The Facts of the Case
In defense of a capital murder charge, Scott Cheever filed notice that he intended to introduce expert evidence that methamphetamine intoxication negated his ability to form specific intent. In response, the court ordered Cheever to submit to a psychiatric evaluation. The report determined that Cheever committed the murder due to his “antisocial personality,” rather than any drug use.
At trial, Cheever raised a voluntary intoxication defense, offering expert testimony regarding his methamphetamine use. In rebuttal, prosecutors sought to present testimony from the expert who had performed the mental evaluation.
Cheever’s attorney objected to the testimony, arguing that since Cheever had not voluntarily agreed to the examination, introduction of the testimony would violate the Fifth Amendment prohibition against compelling a defendant to testify against himself. The trial court allowed the testimony, and the jury sentenced Cheever to death.
The Court’s Decision
By a vote of 9-0, the Supreme Court sided with prosecutors. In so ruling, the justices reaffirmed the 1987 case of Buchanan v. Kentucky, in which the Court held that the government could introduce the results of such psychological examination for the limited purpose of rebutting a mental-status defense.
As explained in the majority opinion authored by Justice Elena Sotomayor, “the Fifth Amendment guarantees that ‘[n]o person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself. . . .’” In addition, when a criminal defendant “neither initiates a psychiatric evaluation nor attempts to introduce any psychiatric evidence,” his compelled statements to a psychiatrist cannot be used against him.
However, the rules change when the defendant seeks to introduce psychiatric evidence. In this case, the justices agreed that allowing the defendant to offer testimony regarding his mental state and excluding the evidence of the court-ordered evaluation would “undermine the adversarial process, allowing a defendant to provide the jury, through an expert operating as proxy, with a one-sided and potentially inaccurate view of his mental state at the time of the alleged crime.”
“The state permissibly followed where the defense led,” Sotomayor added. “Excluding this testimony would have undermined Buchanan and the core truth-seeking function of the trial.”
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Preamble to the Bill of Rights
Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.