By Jonathan Stempel
WASHINGTON, Nov 26 (Reuters) - A divided U.S. Supreme Court
on Monday refused to hear an appeal over whether criminal
defendants have a constitutional right to assert an insanity
defense, leaving in place a paranoid schizophrenic's guilty plea
over two murders.
With three of its nine justices dissenting, the court
without explanation declined to take up the case of John Joseph
Delling, who had been sentenced to life in prison in Idaho over
the 2007 shooting deaths of David Boss, a childhood friend, and
Brad Morse, whom he had met playing online video games.
According to court papers, Delling said following his arrest
that people were involved in wiping his brain when he was 20
years old, and that he had to kill them before turning age 25 to
get his soul back.
Lawyers for Delling claimed he was deluded into believing
the shootings were in self-defense, but pleaded guilty after
being denied the right to assert mental illness.
Three justices - Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and
Sonia Sotomayor - would have considered Delling's appeal.
"The law has long recognized that criminal punishment is not
appropriate for those who, by reason of insanity, cannot tell
right from wrong," Breyer wrote for the dissenting justices.
He said Idaho's standard "permits the conviction of an
individual who knew what he was doing, but had no capacity to
understand that it was wrong."
Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada and Utah have since 1979
passed laws abolishing the insanity defense, though Nevada's
supreme court later revived the defense in that state.
The idea of a ban gained some adherents after the acquittal
of John Hinckley Jr by reason of insanity over his 1981
assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.
In their appeal, Delling's lawyers said the Idaho law
violated Delling's protection against cruel and unusual
punishment under the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Idaho countered that states are not required to provide any
insanity defense, even if a defendant alleges a "moral
incapacity" to commit a crime.
It also said that Delling has been under the care of a
psychiatrist during his entire incarceration.
The case is Delling v. Idaho, U.S. Supreme Court, No.
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