Death Penalty And Mental Illness Term Paper

Length: 7 pages Sources: 1+ Subject: Criminal Justice Type: Term Paper Paper: #15774261 Related Topics: Mentally Retarded, Mental Illness, Insanity Defense, Capital Punishment
Excerpt from Term Paper :

Moreover, in Perry v. Louisiana, 498 U.S. 38 (1990), the Court used that decision to bolster Louisiana's attempts to forcibly medicate a prisoner in order to make him death-eligible. If one agrees that the death penalty is a just penalty for one who has committed a capital crime, and that the reason that mentally ill defendants should not be executed is because they lack competence, then it does not seem unethical to allow them to be forcibly medicated in order to be competent. After all, in that scenario, avoiding medication could be likened to any other attempt to avoid punishment. Moreover, an organic physical disorder that arose after conviction, but that would have prevented a defendant from committing a crime, would not be sufficient reason not to execute a person on death row.

However, forced medication, especially for court appearances, may violate a defendant's Fifth Amendment right to present a defense. After all, if a defendant's defense is based on insanity, or he intends to rely upon a mental illness as one of his mitigating factors, then forcing him to present himself in a medicated state before the factfinder deprives him of a meaningful element of his defense.

In addition, the above arguments rest upon the assumption that these mental illnesses have all arisen in post-conviction settings, because our justice system theoretically embraces the notion that people who were insane at the time of the commission of the crime should not face criminal convictions, but, instead, be diverted into civil commitments or other proceedings, designed to get them assistance and make them "healthy." In addition, our criminal justice system purports to ensure that defendants are competent to stand trial, which would ensure that they are able to participate in their own defenses and not fall prey to the very problems that make the execution of the mentally ill morally questionable, even for advocates of the death penalty. The problem is that those assumptions are simply not warranted.

In fact, for the first time, the Supreme Court's decision in Panetti v. Quarterman, 127 S. Ct. 2842 (2007) seemed to recognize that the criminal justice system simply was not giving adequate consideration to capital defendants' mental statuses. According to Richard Bonnie, the Panetti litigation:

exposes the utter failure of the criminal justice system to take adequate account of the effects of severe mental illness in capital cases, specifically by failing to assure a fair defense for defendants with mental disabilities, by failing to give morally appropriate mitigating effect to claims of diminished responsibility at the time of the crime, and by failing to correct these deficiencies in post-conviction proceedings. Indifference to claims of incompetence on the eve of execution is only the last link in a long chain of indifference and neglect. (Bonnie, 2007).

The history of Panetti dramatically...


Panetti had a lengthy and well-documented history of mental illness, including more than a dozen mental commitments. Moreover, though he was medicated, it does not appear that Panetti was able to assist in his own defense. However, after an initial mistrial, Panetti was found competent to stand trial. Panetti decided that his schizophrenia was cured and stopped taking his medication. Despite his attorneys' protests, Panetti managed to convince the trial court to allow him to waive his right to counsel and represent himself.

Despite the fact that Panetti engaged in clearly irrational behavior, such as subpoenaing Jesus Christ and John F. Kennedy, the trial court never revisited the issue of Panetti's competency. Furthermore, the trial court failed to consider whether there was a difference between competency to stand trial and competency to represent oneself, though logic would suggest a large gap between the two standards. In fact, the "measure of capacity should be more particularized in this context, taking into account the stakes of proceeding without counsel and the jeopardy to which the unrepresented defendant is exposed." (Bonnie, 2007). That Panetti was probably incompetent to represent himself seems clear because, within two months of receiving his death sentence, the same trial court that found him competent to represent himself "found him incompetent to waive the appointment of counsel to represent him in post-conviction proceedings." (Bonnie, 2007).

While Panetti's scenario clearly demonstrates an incompetent defendant, one of the serious issues plaguing the mentally ill is an equation of mental illness with incompetence. Once mentally ill defendants are found incompetent to stand trial, they are not set free and allowed to continue their lives. On the contrary, they are confined, frequently indefinitely, to mental institutions for treatment. Furthermore, the period of confinement can actually make it less likely, rather than more likely, that the defendant will eventually be acquitted, because it makes it more difficult for a defendant to prepare a defense, locate witnesses, and secure evidence. (Fentiman, 1986).

Clearly, there is no easy solution to the moral dilemma that surrounds the execution of the mentally ill. While the legal system has established awareness of the death penalty and the reason that it is being used as a minimum standard, it is clear that such a minimum does not fully reflect modern views on mental illness. Clearly, seriously mentally ill people are being denied a meaningful opportunity to present their own defenses. As a result, even if society fails to conclude that the execution of the mentally ill violates the Eighth Amendment, it seems clear that many mentally ill defendants have not received due process of law, making their convictions and sentences unconstitutional.


Bonnie, R. (2007). Panetti v. Quarterman: mental illness, the death penalty, and human dignity. Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, 5, 257-283.

Fentiman, L. (1986). Whose right is it anyway? Rethinking competency to stand trial in light of the synthetically sane insanity defense. University of Miami Law Review, 40, 1109-1127.

Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986).

Panetti v.…

Sources Used in Documents:


Bonnie, R. (2007). Panetti v. Quarterman: mental illness, the death penalty, and human dignity. Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, 5, 257-283.

Fentiman, L. (1986). Whose right is it anyway? Rethinking competency to stand trial in light of the synthetically sane insanity defense. University of Miami Law Review, 40, 1109-1127.

Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986).

Panetti v. Quarterman, 127 S. Ct. 2842 (2007).

Cite this Document:

"Death Penalty And Mental Illness" (2008, April 07) Retrieved November 27, 2021, from

"Death Penalty And Mental Illness" 07 April 2008. Web.27 November. 2021. <>

"Death Penalty And Mental Illness", 07 April 2008, Accessed.27 November. 2021,

Related Documents
Death Penalty Within the Realm
Words: 2418 Length: 8 Pages Topic: Criminal Justice Paper #: 23287435

The debate over the death penalty remains and the Supreme Court will most likely be asked decide such cases for years to come. Summary and Conclusion The purpose of this discussion was to examine several landmark Supreme Court cases and explain the evolution of capital punishment jurisprudence from 1972 to the present. The research focused on the cases of Furman v Georgia, Woodson v. North Carolina, Gregg v Georgia, McCleskey v

Death Penalty Few Issues in
Words: 1687 Length: 5 Pages Topic: Criminal Justice Paper #: 50313767

All arguments against the death penalty appear doubly applicable to women so convicted; those already victimized by their circumstances and relationships are further victimized by a justice system that is supposed to help them, while the guilty are allowed to continue with their crimes, freed by the skill of high-priced lawyers. According to Dreyfuss (2003), women convicted of murder specifically face issues such as prosecutors who ignore mitigating circumstances, self-defence,

Death Penalty Unsatisfactory Approach To Serious Crimes
Words: 2658 Length: 8 Pages Topic: Criminal Justice Paper #: 45846627

Studies consistently and generally show that, all factors held constant, the race of the accused is a critical variable in determining who will be sentenced to death. Black citizens are, thus, subjected to double discrimination. From initial charging decisions to plea bargaining to sentencing by the jury, Black defendants receive harsh treatment and, as victims, their lives are given less value than whites. Most juries still consist of all

Death Penalty As Justified Murder
Words: 2596 Length: 8 Pages Topic: Criminal Justice Paper #: 70372808

However, the reasons why people commit crime are as different as the individuals themselves. Intentional murder comes in two different flavors. The first is the carefully plotted, well thought out, planned act. In this scenario, motivational theory takes over. The person must feel that they will gain some type of value from the action. It may be that they gain something, such as money, or they may feel that

Capital Punishment Currently, 38 States Have Legalized
Words: 2154 Length: 7 Pages Topic: Criminal Justice Paper #: 65262959

Capital Punishment Currently, 38 states have legalized capital punishment statutes. In most states, the reinstatements of the death penalty were a response to public outcry over the perceived increase of violent crimes. There are now more than 3,000 people on death row, and more are being convicted each year. Despite this legalized status, a vocal group of opponents have raised questions regarding the constitutionality, fairness and effectiveness of capital punishment. This paper

Death Penalty Has Been a Long-Contested Issue
Words: 687 Length: 2 Pages Topic: Criminal Justice Paper #: 5665548

Death penalty has been a long-contested issue among States, legislators, policy makers, and individuals alike. So complicated is the issue that no two opinions appear to be the same. Indeed, the divergence of the various opinions extend to a variety of concerns within the death penalty and the Constitution themselves, including the fairness of capital punishment and decisions relating to it in terms of gender, class, race, and so on.