Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
State v. Schaeffer, 286 P.3d 889 (Kan. 2012).
This case answers the following question:
Can statements made during a mental examination of the defendant be used in sentencing without the need for any Miranda or other warnings?
This case discusses whether the judge’s use in a sentencing hearing of statements made during a mental examination of the defendant was a violation of the defendant’s rights. A report on a psychological examination of a criminal defendant is a valid component of the defendant’s presentence investigation report. Further, the defendant’s notice of his intent to raise an insanity defense constituted his consent to a court-ordered mental examination by an expert for the State, making Miranda warnings unnecessary.
The defendant, Jason Wade Schaeffer (“Schaeffer”), was convicted of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, and a weapons violation. The incident started with Schaeffer threatening Timothy Riley (“Riley”) with a sawed-off shotgun. Schaeffer ordered Riley into Riley’s own car and drove to a friend’s house. At the friend’s house, Schaeffer and the friend forced Riley into the truck of his own car. The men drove around for awhile before stopping in a rural area. They removed Riley from the trunk and made him walk along a fence row in a field. After asking Riley about the ride in the trunk, Schaeffer took the sawed-off shotgun and shot Riley once in the back of the head. Schaeffer took Riley’s watch and ring. Schaeffer was later caught at the end of a police chase in the stolen car with the murder weapon and stolen goods.
Bias or prejudice may be presumed when, based on objective standards, the probability of actual bias is too high to be constitutionally tolerable. A judge must recuse in any proceeding in which his or her impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including when the judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party. In this case, the comments made by the judge at the sentencing hearing were excessive for the most part, and could be construed to show that the judge was not impartial. While this means that the judge should have recused himself, it does not show that Schaeffer should win on appeal because he has failed to demonstrate that this bias or prejudice warrants setting aside his sentencing. The court reasoned that while Schaeffer’s sentences may have been harsh and consecutive, that fact does not establish actual prejudice. The court found these sentences reasonable, especially in light of the severity and cruel nature of the acts that Schaeffer had committed.
During the sentencing hearing, the judge made a comment about the results of Schaeffer’s psychological examination. A report on a psychological examination of a criminal defendant is a valid component of the defendant’s presentence investigation report. Schaeffer argued that this report was not in evidence, that it lacked foundation, and that it could not properly be considered by the judge. However, in Kansas, state law allows the presentence report to include the mental examination of the defendant.
Schaeffer also argued that the psychological examination should not have been considered by the judge at all during the sentencing hearing because Schaeffer never received Miranda warnings before he made the statements. In Kansas, the defendant’s notice of his intent to raise an insanity defense constituted his consent to a court-ordered mental examination by an expert for the State, making Miranda warnings unnecessary. In recent cases, the Supreme Court of Kansas has made decisions limiting the ability of the State to introduce evidence of such psychological examinations to prove guilt of a defendant. However, the statements made in the psychological examination are not being used to prove the guilt of the defendant in this case. Rather, the judge, and not the jury, is using the statements to determine sentencing. The court reasoned that this distinction of the use of the psychological examination in the sentencing hearing rather than to determine guilt was acceptable.
The Supreme Court of Kansas affirmed the lower court’s ruling and rejected all the arguments made by Schaeffer on appeal. The court held that statements made during a mental examination of the defendant can be used in sentencing without the need for any Miranda or other warnings.