Pleading the 5th: What About Court-Ordered Evaluations?

Is your 5th Amendment-guaranteed right against self-incrimination protected when it comes to court-ordered evaluations? Our South Florida criminal defense lawyers sure think so, and the Supreme Court will rule on this important issue next year after they hear arguments in the case of Kansas v. Cheever next week.
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Scott Cheever, a methamphetamine addict who shot and killed a police officer in Kansas, claimed he lacked the state of mind necessary to commit capital murder because he was intoxicated at the time of the incident. During his trial in federal court, he was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, the results of which would be used against him later on.

Eventually, the federal prosecutors dismissed the case so that Cheever could be tried in Kansas state court. During the trial in state court, the prosecution called as a witness the doctor who had evaluated Cheever during the federal portion of the trial. The doctor claimed that (despite Cheever’s use of mind-altering substances such as methamphetamine) the defendant was able to “form the intent to commit murder.” Cheever was sentenced to death, but in 2012 his sentence was reversed because the Kansas Supreme Court found that the previous court had violated Cheever’s 5th Amendment rights by using the results of his evaluation against him in court.

The 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution clearly states that no defendant shall ever “be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” Precedent has resoundingly affirmed that this means that defendants have a right against self-incrimination. Cheever’s attorneys, and the court that reversed his initial conviction, contended that by using the results of Cheever’s psychological evaluation against him in court, the state violated Cheever’s 5th Amendment rights, because the results of the examination were gleaned from information provided by Cheever himself.

The Constitution-conscious criminal defense attorneys at Leifert & Leifert firmly believe in the Bill of Rights and the privileges it guarantees to Americans. Using information that someone has provided to a medical practitioner against them is in clear violation of their right against self-incrimination. A Supreme Court ruling that court-ordered evaluations are ripe for exploitation will chip away at one of the rights upon which this country was founded and will mark the descent down a slippery slope.

The implications of this case stretch far out of Kansas and far beyond the realm of capital murder – how much do we value the Bill of Rights? How much faith do we have in the justice system? An individual’s right to defend himself or herself means that they have a right not to incriminate himself or herself. Our founding fathers saw fit to make sure that this sacred right was included in the Bill of Rights nearly 225 years ago. Far be it from anyone today to start demolishing the bedrock of our legal principles.

If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.

For more details on the Kansas v. Cheever case, check out this information provided by the American Civil Liberties Union.

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