U.S. Supreme Court

Cert Petition Claims Insanity Defense Is a Constitutional Right


An accused murderer is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether he has a constitutional right to an insanity defense.

John Joseph Delling entered conditional guilty pleas to second-degree murder in Idaho, one of four states that do not permit defendants to claim insanity as a defense to criminal charges, the Washington Post reports. The other states are Kansas, Montana and Utah. A cert petition filed on Delling’s behalf by Stanford law professor Jeffrey Fisher claims violations of due process and the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Delling was accused of killing two people and wounding another in a 2007 crime spree, the story says. He claimed he had to attack two of the victims because he was “a type of Jesus” and they were stealing his energy. A trial judge found that Delling did not have the ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct, but sentenced him to life in prison.

The Idaho Supreme Court found no constitutional violation in a December opinion (PDF).

An amicus brief (PDF) filed by 52 law professors supports Delling, the Post says. They argue that the alternative to the defense—allowing proof of mental problems to negate the mens rea for the crime charged—is insufficient because delusions can motivate a person to form an intent to kill.

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