Recent Amicus Briefs
The ABA filed amicus briefs supported by the Criminal Justice Section in the cases below. All will be considered by the US Supreme Court in its 2019 Term.
Ramos v. Louisiana, filed in support of petitioner Evangelisto Ramos, presents the issue of whether the Fourteenth Amendment fully incorporates the Sixth Amendment guarantee of a unanimous jury verdict. Mr. Ramos was found guilty of second-degree murder by a 10-2 verdict in Louisiana, which has since amended its state constitution to require unanimous jury verdicts in all felony cases. CJS Standard 15-1.1 (1993, 1978) requires without exception that criminal juries be unanimous. The many flaws in non-unanimous jury verdicts underscore that the right to a unanimous jury verdict should apply to states through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The ABA affirmed this standard by adopting policy in 2018. Oral argument is set for October 7, 2019.
Kahler v. Kansas, filed in support of Petitioner James Kahler, questions whether the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments permit a state to abolish the insanity defense. James K. Kahler was convicted in Kansas of killing his wife, his two daughters and his wife’s grandmother and was sentenced to death. Kahler’s attorneys say that when he committed the murders, he was suffering from depression so severe that he disconnected from reality and couldn’t control his actions. He was tried in Kansas, which has not recognized the insanity defense since 1996. Under K.S.A. Section 22-3220, a defendant’s mental health is relevant only to the question whether he intended to commit the crime. The CJS Mental Health Standards and ABA policy state that one’s inability, due to mental disease or defect, to appreciate the wrongfulness of otherwise criminal conduct should result in a finding of nonresponsibility, and the commentary to the 1986 Mental Health Standards describes in detail the history of the insanity defense in Anglo-American jurisprudence. Oral argument is set for October 7, 2019.
Mathena v. Malvo, filed in support of the Respondent Lee Malvo, reconsiders the issue of whether the sentencing of a juvenile to life imprisonment without parole violates the Eighth Amendment, thought to be decided in Miller v. Alabama, and made retroactive in Montgomery v. Louisiana. Lee Malvo participated in a series of random murders committed across the DC, Maryland and Virginia area with an adult accomplice, John Allen Muhammed. Malvo was 17 at the time of the offenses, an abandoned child from Antigua, who was brought to the US by Muhammed and trained by Muhammed in military tactics. He was tried for two offenses in Virginia, where the jury was given the choice of sentencing Malvo to death or to life imprisonment without parole. The jury chose the latter. Upon the decisions in Miller and Montgomery, Malvo requested a resentencing hearing which was granted by the Fourth Circuit. The State of Virginia petitioned for certiorari to the USSC, stating that the sentencing scheme in Virginia was in fact a discretionary scheme and that resentencing should be denied to Malvo.
The ABA amicus brief argues that the Court must follow the rule of law and rely upon its previous decisions, beginning with Roper v Simmons, that, under the Eighth Amendment, young people should not be subject to the kinds of drastic punishment that adults face, including the death penalty and mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, because children are different from adults. The brief also cites ABA policies that young people have less capacity to understand the consequences of their behavior and act in ways that are highly impulsive and emotional. Moreover, the adolescent brain is highly amenable to therapies that do not work with adults, and so youthful offenders should be provided with meaningful programs that can eventually demonstrate maturity and rehabilitation and allow release at a reasonable point in their incarceration, considering the needs of the victims. Oral argument is set for October 16, 2019.