Fisher contends that Delling’s case offers the court that opportunity. Delling’s lawyers said throughout his case that Idaho’s law kept him from making the only defense he could, and he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
The trial judge found that Delling did not have the “ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct,” but the judge still sentenced him to life imprisonment. Fisher said he is in solitary confinement in a maximum-security prison.
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“We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us,” the president said.
Finding someone like Delling not guilty because of insanity does not mean allowing him among the general public, Fisher said, but confining him to a mental institution where he can receive treatment.
Idaho did not respond to Delling’s petition, hoping that the justices will continue to defer to the state’s supreme court.
In its brief to that court, Idaho said Delling had not shown that abolition of the insanity defense has “proven unjust or unwise on a practical level, nor does he contend that the decisions have led to abuses or that they have resulted in other continued injustices.”
Delling has drawn support from organizations such as the Constitutional Accountability Center and the American Psychiatric Association, as well as a group of 52 law professors who told the Supreme Court that the affirmative defense of legal insanity has “such a strong historical, moral and practical pedigree” that it has become “a matter of fundamental fairness in a just society.”
The alternative in states such as Idaho — allowing evidence of mental illness to negate a finding that the defendant was aware that that his conduct was criminal — is insufficient, said the brief filed by the professors, who included Richard J. Bonnie of the University of Virginia and Stephen Morse of the University of Pennsylvania.
Delling, they said, is a “perfect example.”
“His delusional belief about the victims caused him to form the intent to kill, but he did not know that what he was doing was wrong,” the law professors wrote.
The court will decide whether to accept Delling’s petition later this year.