This case was decided on remand from the United States Supreme Court. The first time out, the Kansas Supreme Court reversed the conviction. That court found a Fifth Amendment violation in the requirement that Cheever submit to a mental examination when he claimed a "mental disease or defect" defense. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed unanimously in an opinion by Justice Sotomayor. CJLF filed an amicus brief in the case.
On the first round, the Kansas Supreme Court considered only the penalty phase issues likely to arise on retrial because the case was going to be retried anyway. On remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, they needed to consider in full whether to affirm the penalty.
One of the issues was whether the defendant was entitled to an instruction that the defendant need not prove his mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. The Kansas court had held that the Eighth Amendment requires this, but that holding was reversed last January by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kansas v. Carr. CJLF also filed a brief in that case. The state court can, and did, hold that the instruction is still required by state law. However, because Cheever did not request the instruction a different standard of review applies, and the absence of the instruction was not so detrimental as to require reversal in this case.
Affirmance of this entirely just sentence is a good result, but long overdue. It took so long because the Kansas Supreme Court erroneously decided two issues of federal constitutional law. Kansas has the worst system of any state for appointing Supreme Court judges -- the State Bar is the gatekeeper to the bench -- and it shows. Reform of this process should be top priority in that state.