Supreme Court rules for prosecution in Kansas murder case

WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that prosecutors may offer evidence to counter a claim of mental incompetence when it is self-induced.

The ruling in a capital murder case reaffirms a 1987 precedent and reverses a decision by the Kansas Supreme Court.


On Jan. 19, 2005, Scott Cheever and friends had cooked and smoked methamphetamine at a home near Hilltop, Kan., when Greenwood County deputies drove up to arrest Cheever on an unrelated outstanding warrant.

Cheever ran to an upstairs bedroom holding a loaded .44 caliber revolver. Cheever shot Sheriff Matthew Samuels as he was coming up the stars, walked back to the bedroom and returned to shoot Samuels again. He fired multiple shots at other officers, but only Samuels was hit.

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When the sheriff died of his wounds, Cheever was charged with capital murder.

The prosecution went through several twists.

In an unrelated case, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state's way of executing criminals was unconstitutional. Rather than try him without a chance at a death penalty, officials then prosecuted Cheever in federal court under the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994.

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At this point, Cheever's lawyers filed notice he intended to claim he lacked the mental capacity to commit capital murder because he was under the influence of meth intoxication.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court restored Kansas' death penalty, and back Cheever went to state court for prosecution. At trial, Cheever's lawyers raised the meth intoxication defense. State prosecutors presented testimony from an expert who had examined his mental state before his interrupted federal prosecution, despite objections from the defense that Cheever had never consented to the examination.

Defense argued that the testimony violated Cheever's right against self-incrimination.

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A jury found Cheever guilty and sentenced him to death.

Eventually, the Kansas Supreme Court threw out the conviction and sentence, relying on the U.S. Supreme Court's Estelle vs. Smith, in which the justices said an involuntary psychiatric examination violated a defendant's right not to self-incriminate under the Fifth Amendment.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court also ruled in 1987's Buchanan vs. Kentucky that a state may introduce the results of such an examination for the limited purpose of rebutting a mental-status defense when voluntary intoxication is not a mental disease or defect under state law.

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Tuesday, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said for the unanimous court that Buchanan allowed the prosecution to introduce its evidence to counter Cheever's claim.


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