Kansas v. Cheever

PETITIONER: State of Kansas
RESPONDENT: Scott D. Cheever
LOCATION: Hilltop, Kansas

DOCKET NO.: 12-609
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)

CITATION: 571 US (2013)
GRANTED: Feb 25, 2013
ARGUED: Oct 16, 2013
DECIDED: Dec 11, 2013

Derek Schmidt - Kansas Attorney General, for the petitioner
Neal Kumar Katyal - on behalf of the respondent
Nicole A. Saharsky - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner

Facts of the case

On January 19, 2005, Scott D. Cheever shot and killed Greenwood County Sheriff Matthew Samuels at the residence of Darrell and Belinda Coopers in Hilltop, Kansas. Samuels had gone to the Coopers' residence based on a tip to arrest Cheever for outstanding warrants. He found the Coopers, Cheever, and two others cooking and ingesting methamphetamines. In the following attempts to arrest Cheever and retrieve the injured Samuels, Cheever also shot at several other officers.

At trial, Cheever asserted a voluntary intoxication defense and argued that the methamphetamine use rendered him mentally incapable of the premeditation required for murder. During the course of the trial, the judge ordered Cheever to undergo a psychiatric examination conducted by a psychiatric hired by the government. The prosecution sought to bring the transcript of the interview into evidence to impeach Cheever's testimony regarding the order of events at the Coopers' residence, which the court allowed. After the defense rested their case, the prosecution called the psychiatrist to the stand as a rebuttal witness to respond to the defense's claims regarding Cheever's mental capacity at the time of the crime. The trial court allowed the psychiatrist's testimony as a rebuttal witness. The jury found Cheever guilty and, at a separate sentencing hearing, sentenced him to death. The Kansas Supreme Court held that the admission of the government psychiatrist's testimony into evidence violated Cheever's Fifth Amendment rights.


Did the state violate the defendant's Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination by bringing in evidence from the court-ordered mental evaluation of the defendant to rebut an affirmative defense based on mental incapacity?

Media for Kansas v. Cheever

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 16, 2013 in Kansas v. Cheever

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - December 11, 2013 in Kansas v. Cheever

Justice Sotomayor has our opinion this morning in case 12-609, Kansas against Cheever.

The State of Kansas charged Scott Cheever with capital murder after he shot and killed the county sheriff.

At trial, Cheever presented a voluntary intoxication defense offering expert testimony regarding his methamphetamine use.

In rebuttal, the state sought to present testimony from an expert who had examined Cheever pursuant to a previous Federal District Court order.

Over the defense's objection, the trial court allowed the testimony.

The jury found Cheever guilty and voted to impose a death sentence.

The Kansas Supreme Court vacated the conviction in sentence holding that the testimony from the government's expert violated the Fifth Amendment's bar against self-incrimination.

The Kansas Court relied on Estelle versus Smith in which this Court held that a court ordered psychiatric examination violated the defendant's Fifth Amendment rights when the defendant neither initiated the examination nor put his mental capacity in dispute.

Today, we vacate the judgment of the Kansas Supreme Court.

In Buchanan versus Kentucky, we held that the Fifth Amendment did not prohibit the prosecution from presenting evidence from a court-ordered examination for the limited purpose of rebutting a mental status defense.

That holding harmonizes with the long established principle that when a defendant chooses to testify in a criminal case, the Fifth Amendment does not violate it when the court requires him to answer question -- related questions on cross examination.

Here, the prosecution elicited testimony from its own expert only after Cheever offered testimony from his own expert.

A witness who examined Cheever and testified about Cheever's inability to form the requisite mens rea.

Excluding the state's testimony would prevent the prosecution from its only affected means of rebutting the testimony of Cheever's expert undermining the core true seeking function of trial.

The State Supreme Court nonetheless reasoned that the testimony of government expert violated the Fifth Amendment because Cheever's defense was based upon voluntary intoxication which is not a mental disease or defect as a matter of state law.

But mental disease or defect is not the salient phrase under this Court's precedence which use the broader phrase, “Mental status.”

Mental status defenses include those based on psychological expert evidence and as to a defendant's mens rea, mental capacity to commit the crime, or ability to premeditate.

We hold that when a defendant offers testimony regarding his mental status from an expert who has examined him, the prosecution may offer evidence from a court-ordered psychological examination for the limited purpose of rebutting the defendant's evidence.

The judgment of the Kansas Supreme Court is therefore vacated and the case is remanded for proceedings not inconsistent with today's opinion.

This opinion is for unanimous court.