Supreme Court to Consider Jury Unanimity, Insanity Defense, Juvenile Sentences, Immigration and State Prosecutions | March 20, 2019| Article & News


By Zach Walsh, Attorney 
McKean Smith 

On Monday, the Supreme Court announced it would consider whether insanity defenses and the rule that only unanimous juries may convict are required by the Constitution, whether recent decisions limiting punishment of juvenile offenders apply retroactively, and whether states can prosecute crimes based on false information entered on federal immigration forms.

Insanity Defenses. In 1996, Kansas eliminated the right of a defendant to claim he or she couldn’t distinguish between right and wrong. In Kahler vs. Kansas, the parties will argue whether the Kansas law, violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and the 14th Amendment guarantee of due process of law. The court will decide whether the Constitution requires that the states make an insanity defense available.

Unanimous Jury Verdicts. Oregon is the last state permitting 10-2 votes for convictions after Lousiana voters amended the state constitution to require unanimous verdicts. The hearing will focus on whether the unanimity requirement, applying to federal courts under the Sixth Amendment, is required by state courts, a term referred to as “incorporation.”

In February, the justices ruled that the Eighth Amendment ban on excessive fines applies to the states in Timbs v. Indiana. During oral argument, Justice Gorsuch told the Indiana solicitor general, “here we are in 2018 still litigating incorporation of the Bill of Rights. Really? Come on, General.” The justices will determine whether incorporation applies to unanimous jury verdicts.

Juvenile Offender Sentences. In Malvo v. Virginia, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment stops mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles or whether it only applies when life-without-parole sentences are mandatory. The 4th Circuit threw out the life-without-parole sentence of Lee Boyd Malvo, aka “The Beltway Sniper,” and ordered his resentencing, but emphasized whether Malvo is a “rare juvenile offender” and is so irredeemable, he deserves a life-without-parole sentence.

Immigration and State Prosecutions. In Kansas v. Garcia, the Supreme Court will decide whether a state may prosecute three undocumented immigrants who used other people’s Social Security numbers to fill out employment forms in Kansas. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act bars states from prosecuting individuals for identity theft on federal information entered on federal immigration forms.

The Supreme Court will hear these four cases in their next term, which begins Oct. 7.

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