The Supreme Court is hearing a case today of a Kansas man who was convicted of murdering a county sheriff after a
psychiatrist who examined himtestified for the prosecution.
Cheever, who was 24 at the time of the murder, used a defence of “voluntary intoxication,” according to court documents. His lawyers argued that he was too high to “premeditate” the murder. (In order to get the death penalty, criminal defendants typically must be guilty of planning their crimes.)
His lawyers relied on the testimony of Dr. R. Lee Evans, who said meth causes paranoia and violence and robbed Cheever of his ability to think rationally.
Prosecutors countered Cheever’s intoxication defence with the testimony of Dr. Michael Welner, a psychiatrist who had evaluated Cheever under a court order. Welner testified the meth had not created a “remarkable change” in Cheever’s behaviour, according to court documents. After the police arrived, Welner testified, Cheever engaged in a series of decisions showing that he could think and control his actions.
“He characterised Cheever as a person who had chosen an antisocial outlaw lifestyle and who was indifferent to the violence he committed,” according to a petition filed by Kansas prosecutors. That testimony likely didn’t make him a very sympathetic to the jurors.
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether, when a defendant like Cheever introduces testimony about his mental state, prosecutors are allowed to rebut that testimony with statements a defendant made to a psychiatrist under a court-ordered exam.
The Supreme Court of Kansas ruled in August 2012 that prosecutors violated Cheever’s right against self-incrimination when it used the psychiatrist’s testimony against him. The Attorney General of Kansas asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review that decision.
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