Kahler v. Kansas Death Penalty Case Could Have Ramifications in SD
Thursday, October 17, 2019
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – A pending U.S. Supreme Court ruling could impact a South Dakota case that shocked the Sioux Falls community in 2016.
This month, the high court justices heard arguments in Kahler v. Kansas, a case that could determine the constitutionality of the insanity defense.
South Dakota lawmakers have considered but rejected legislation to exempt people with mental illness from the death penalty.
Aya Gruber, a professor of criminal law at the University of Colorado, says the Supreme Court has so far relied on a "shock to the conscience" doctrine as grounds for a death sentence.
"Is it possible that a state can go ahead and punish a severely mentally ill person, the same way that they would punish a completely sane person?” Gruber questions. “Or would that be such a grossly disproportionate punishment that it would shock the conscience?"
A Sioux Falls man eligible for the death penalty awaits trial. In 2016, 24-year-old Heath Otto was charged with killing his mother and nephew, and two counts of first-degree murder make him eligible for the death penalty. His defense lawyers later hired experts who diagnosed Otto with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.
In the case before the Supreme Court, James Kahler was convicted and the death sentence was recommended for fatally shooting his ex-wife, her mother and his two daughters. He appealed, claiming his constitutional rights were violated by not being allowed to present an insanity defense.
Gruber notes that insanity is argued in very few cases.
"And of those cases, they're very rarely successful,” she states. “So, this is not like a defense that people are using all the time – this is a rarely used, rarely successful defense."
In death penalty cases, South Dakota currently relies on the M'Naghten Rule, meaning the burden of proof for insanity is on the defendant.
Capital punishment cases typically cost 10 times more than a first-degree murder case, or an average of $1 million more per case than life imprisonment.
get more stories like this via email
The Iowa League of Women Voters plans to ask the Iowa Legislature to rethink the voting restrictions put in place prior to last month's midterm electi…
Agriculture groups and government agencies aren't slowing down in trying to convince farmers to use more sustainable practices such as cover crops…
Winter is here, leaving many older South Dakotans vulnerable to social isolation. But a growing body of research, as well as opportunities, shows …
By Jala Forest / Broadcast version by Nadia Ramlagan Reporting for the Kent State-Ohio News Connection Collaboration Nearly 40% of college students a…
The Biden administration has proposed a rule to limit methane flaring from oil and gas development on public lands. The rule would impose royalty …
The flu, COVID and RSV are rapidly spreading in Kentucky, and health experts say that's a problem for hospitals, schools and the state's vulnerable …
As its 125th anniversary nears, the Connecticut Audubon Society has released a report detailing the effectiveness of conservation efforts in the …
2022 was a banner year for women elected as governor. Nearly one-third of America's governors will be women next year, which is a record. Iowa …