Leland v. Oregon, 343 U.S. 790 (1952)

2012-07-24 13:15:25

In Leland v. Oregon, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a state rule requiring the defendant to prove insanity beyond a reasonable doubt did not violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Subsequent Court decisions (for example, In re Winship, 1970, Mullaney v. Wilbur, 1975) requiring that the prosecution bear the burden of proving essential elements of the crime cast doubt on this holding. But in Rivera v. Delaware (1976), the Court dismissed, for want of a substantial federal question, an appeal of a conviction under an instruction placing the burden of proving insanity on the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence. Thus, under the federal constitution, the defendant may be required to bear the burden of proving insanity, a position that most jurisdictions have adopted. Most require the defendant to prove insanity by a preponderance, but some (including the federal courts) impose the higher clear and convincing standard of proof on defendants. Empirical evidence leaves some doubt as to whether the placement of the Burden of Proof makes a practical difference in the insanity context. However, there is no justification for imposing a heavier burden on those who assert insanity than on those who assert other defenses; in fact, juries probably tend to be more skeptical of insanity claims than any other defensive claim.


References and Further Reading

  • American Bar Association Criminal Justice Mental Health Standards. Washington, D.C.: ABA Press, 1989, pp. 383–88.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970)
  • Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684 (1975)
  • Rivera v. Delaware, 429 U.S. 877 (1976)

See also Insanity Defense; Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684 (1957); Proof beyond a Reasonable Doubt