WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday restored a death sentence for a Kansas murderer who claimed his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination had been violated when he was forced to submit to a mental health exam after claiming he was under the influence of drugs when he shot a sheriff.
In a 9-0 decision written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court ruled that if a defendant claims he was “intoxicated” at the time of the crime, the prosecutor may require an exam by a mental health expert and then release the findings to a jury.
The Fifth Amendment does not allow defendants to present a “one-sided and potentially inaccurate view of his mental state at the time of the crime,” Sotomayor wrote.
Sotomayor said that even if a defendant does not testify directly about his mental state, he opens the door to being required to respond to questions once he relies on his mental state or his intoxication as a defense.
The decision reverses a ruling of the Kansas Supreme Court, which had overturned the death sentence imposed on Scott Cheever. In 2005, he shot and killed a sheriff who had come to his home to arrest him on an outstanding warrant.
In his defense, he claimed that he was impaired by his use of methamphetamines and therefore could not be convicted of premeditated murder. A psychiatrist from Auburn University testified for his defense and said his drug use had damaged his brain.
But Cheever was forced to undergo a psychiatric evaluation by a prosecution expert who said the defendant’s “antisocial personality,” not his drug use, explained his actions. A jury convicted Cheever and sentenced him to die.
The Kansas Supreme Court reversed his murder conviction and death sentence on the grounds that Cheever had been compelled to serve as a witness against himself when he was interviewed by the prosecution expert.
The Supreme Court reversed the state court’s decision in Kansas v. Cheever.