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Insanity Defense may be abandoned by States

U.S. Supreme Court rules that insanity defense may be abandoned by the states in murder cases.

In the case of Kahler v. Kansas, No. 18–6135, slip opinion, decided March 23, 2020, the United States Supreme Court determined that there are two apparent pathways to acquittal for the intent specific crime of murder– the “cognitive and moral incapacity tests.” The State of Kansas has adopted the cognitive incapacity test. Meaning, was the defendant unable, due to severe mental impairment or a defect of reason that they were unable to comprehend the nature and quality of the act they were doing. Kansas does not recognize “moral incapacity;” IE: unable to comprehend right vs. wrong at time of killing. The Supreme Court determined that it was up to the states to adopt the standard that they felt more suitable.

In Pennsylvania, the Legislature has codified both the cognitive and moral incapacity tests.

For purposes of this section, the phrase legallyinsane means that, at the time of the commission of the offense, the actor was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing or, if the actor did know the quality of the act, that he did not know that what he was doing was wrong.

18 Pa.C.S.A. § 315 [Insanity].

So, the Court in the Kahler decision was permitting Kansas to abandon one of the forms of insanity. Both standards still remain in Pennsylvania. Cognitive incapacity means you can be of a “diseased mind;” IE: legally insane (suffering from a psychiatric disorder). You may also be suffering from voluntary intoxication, for instance, under the influence of drug and/or alcohol to the extent that you could not formulate specific intent to kill. Note, this doesn’t mean you are not guilty of murder, just a lesser degree of murder. You may also be of a state of mind such that you did not comprehend the nature and quality of your actions– right vs. wrong or “moral incapacity.”

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