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On October 7, 2019, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Kahler v. Kansas and Ramos v. Louisiana, both of which raise questions of constitutional criminal law.

In Kahler, a jury convicted James Kahler of capital murder.  Among other things, he objected at trial to a Kansas statute limiting any “mental disease or defect” defense to formation of the requisite mental state for the charged offense.  The statute, Kahler argued, denied him due process by depriving him of the ability to present an insanity defense. The Supreme Court of Kansas, following its precedent, noted that state law had deliberately “abandon[ed] lack of ability to know right from wrong as a defense,” and rejected Kahler’s argument.   The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently granted certiorari to consider whether the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution permit a state to abolish the insanity defense.

In Ramos, Evangelisto Ramos was convicted of second-degree murder by the vote of 10 of 12 jurors.  Challenging his conviction, Ramos argued that Louisiana’s statutory scheme permitting non-unanimous jury verdicts in non-capital felony cases violated his right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Relying on its precedent, the Louisiana Supreme Court rejected Ramos’ argument. The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently granted certiorari to consider whether the Fourteenth Amendment fully incorporates the Sixth Amendment guarantee of a unanimous jury verdict (in criminal cases) against the states.

To discuss the cases, we have GianCarlo Canaparo, Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation.