LAST UPDATED ON Apr. 30, 2013
KANSAS v. CHEEVER, No. 12-609
Cert. granted February 25, 2013
On February 25, the U.S Supreme Court
agreed to review a decision by the Kansas
Supreme Court overturning the conviction and death sentence of Scott Cheever, who killed a sheriff during a drug investigation. Cheever argued that his own drug use made it impossible for him to have killed with premeditation, a factor necessary for a capital murder conviction. The case had been previously charged in federal court. In that case, the trial judge had ordered a mental health evaluation because Cheever was similarly claiming a lack of intent due to drug use. The federal charges were eventually dismissed, and the state took up the prosecution. At the state trial, the prosecution used Cheever's statements during the mental evaluation to rebut his claim of incapacity. The Kansas Supreme Court held that to be a violation of Cheever's 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Generally, statements from a state mental health evaluation may only be used against the defendant if he has raised a defense based on a mental disease or defect. The Kansas Court held that Cheever's claim of drug use was not such a defense. The case, Kansas v. Cheever, No. 12-609, will be argued in the fall.
The Supreme Court agreed to address two issues:
1. When a criminal defendant affirmatively introduces expert testimony that he lacked the requisite mental state to commit capital murder of a law enforcement officer due to the alleged temporary and long-term effects of the defendant's methamphetamine use, does the state violate the defendant's Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination by rebutting the defendant's mental state defense with evidence from a court-ordered mental evaluation of the defendant?
2. When a criminal defendant testifies in his own defense, does the State violate the Fifth Amendment by impeaching such testimony with evidence from a court-ordered mental evaluation of the defendant?
The case was originally prosecuted in state court. However, Kansas's death penalty was ruled unconstitutional by the Kansas Supreme Court, so the federal government took over the case and pursued the death penalty. Subsequently, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the Kansas death penalty, (see Kansas v. Marsh), and the federal charges gave way to the state case.
(B. Leonard, "Justices to Look at Meth User's Competency Exam," Courthouse News, February 25, 2013; Kansas v. Cheever, No. 12-609, cert. granted Feb. 25, 2013). See U.S. Supreme Court and Mental Illness.
TREVINO v. THALER, No. 11-10189
Cert. granted October 29, 2012
Argument Feb. 25, 2013
On October 29, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a death penalty case from Texas to determine whether inmates there can raise claims of inadequate trial representation in federal court if they were effectively prevented from raising such a claim in their state appeal by the further failure of their appellate lawyers. Lower courts considering this issue have held that an earlier Supreme Court ruling, Martinez v. Ryan (2012), which provided such a right in an Arizona case, does not apply in Texas because defendants have multiple opportunities to claim their lawyers failed them. Carlos Trevino's current lawyers argue that there was a great deal of mitigating evidence that the trial lawyers failed to find and present at trial.
RYAN V. GONZALEZ, No. 10-930
TIBBALS V. CARTER, No. 11-218
Cert. granted March 19, 2012
Argued October 9, 2012
Decided January 8, 2013
On January 8, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected indefinite delays in the federal review of death penalty cases when inmates are mentally incompetent to assist their attorneys. Writing for the Court, Justice Clarence Thomas said such appeals are usually based on established facts, not requiring further input from the defendant. “Given the backward-looking, record-based nature of most federal habeas proceedings, counsel can generally provide effective representation to a habeas petitioner regardless of the petitioner’s competence,” he said. “Attorneys are quite capable of reviewing the state-court record, identifying legal errors, and marshaling relevant arguments, even without their clients’ assistance.” The opinion consolidated the cases of Ryan v. Gonzales (Arizona) and Tibbals v. Carter (Ohio). In Carter's case, the Court left open the window for a temporary stay if his appeals rely on evidence outside the court record and if he might regain competence. “If a district court concludes that [Carter’s] claim could substantially benefit from the petitioner’s assistance, the district court should take into account the likelihood that the petitioner will regain competence in the foreseeable future,” Thomas wrote. “Where there is no reasonable hope of competence, a stay is inappropriate and merely frustrates the state’s attempts to defend its presumptively valid judgment.”
Read the full opinion.
Based on an earlier Court decision (Ford v. Wainwright (1986)), if an inmate is mentally incompetent at the time of his execution, he may not be put to death.
(D. Cassens Weiss, "Supreme Court Allows Some Limited Stays for Competency in Habeas Corpus Appeals
," ABA Journal, January 8, 2013.)
Orders of the Court and Related Matters
Boyer v. Louisiana, No. 11-9953, dismissed as improvidently granted. The Court originally granted certiorari on the issue of “whether a state’s failure to fund counsel for an indigent defendant for five years, particularly where failure was the direct result of the prosecution’s choice to seek the death penalty, should be weighed against the state for speedy trial purposes”. Supporting the dismissal was the belief that most of the delay had been caused by the defendant. The dissent would have allowed a decision to instruct states “that they have an obligation to protect a defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial.”
(5-4, Per curiam on April 29, 2013. Concurring opinion by Justice Alito with Justices Scalia and Thomas joining. Dissenting opinion by Justice Sotomayor with Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan joining.)
For the third time, the execution John Balentine
was stayed with a day or less remaining. An hour before he was to die on August 22, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court halted the execution to allow more time to review his petition about ineffective representation. In 1999, Balentine was given a death sentence after a penalty trial lasting one day, in which his attorneys called no witnesses and presented no mitigating evidence. Read Balentine's petition to the Supreme Court
Read Governor Lincoln Chafee's (R.I.) petition to the U.S. Supreme Court
requesting review of a lower court decision ordering him to turn a prisoner over to the federal government for death penalty prosecution. The governor originally declined to surrender the defendant, Jason Pleau, because Rhode Island has elected not to use the death penalty. (Chafee v. U.S. (2012)). UPDATE:
The Court declined to review the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit requiring the governor to hand over Pleau to federal authorities for prosecution. (Jan. 14, 2013).