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
Groups fighting for Palestinian rights are praising a new fact sheet on religious discrimination from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for …
Lawmakers and immigrants-rights activists in the Commonwealth are hoping to pass the Language Access and Inclusion Act, which would dramatically …
New U.S. Department of Agriculture rules will target fraud and increase oversight of the $64 billion-a-year organic food industry. In Iowa, the …
By Jennifer Weiss-Wolf for Ms. Magazine.Broadcast version by Eric Galatas for Colorado News Connection reporting for the Ms. Magazine-Public News …
Health and Wellness
With Black History Month underway, Wisconsin researchers and support groups are highlighting the disparities in cases of Alzheimer's disease…
North Dakota's plan to boost animal agriculture has reignited a thorny issue: loosening restrictions on corporate ownership of farms. The state said …
Oregon is pursuing an aggressive climate plan to switch to renewable energy sources, but it faces one often overlooked issue: enough high-voltage …
A measure in the Washington State Legislature would provide free school meals to K-12 students, but nutrition service workers are worried they are …