However, this Court also recognizes that mental illness oftentimes differs from other immutable characteristics, such as mental retardation and age, in that a defendant oftentimes has the ability to control mental illness through medical interventions. While there is tremendous evidence of Panetti's deteriorated mental state, there is very little evidence to support Panetti's assertions that he was insane at the time of the murders. Though there are serious questions regarding Panetti's competency to stand trial, much less his competency to represent himself in that trial, there simply does not appear to be any evidence that he was insane at the time of the murders. Panetti engaged in preparations that were rationally aimed at accomplishing the murder of his in-laws, but was able to refrain from killing his wife and child. In addition, he engaged in a stand-off with police that resulted in him escaping the stand-off without being killed and without the deaths of additional people. This behavior certainly demonstrates a greater level of competency than Panetti's post-conviction behavior and suggests that Panetti was not insane at the time of the commission of the crimes. The problem is that, because Panetti is not currently competent and may not have been competent at the time of the trial, it is impossible to determine whether or not Panetti should have been found not guilty by reason of insanity or incompetent to stand trial. It is simply impossible to know who is correct: the experts who believe that Panetti is malingering or the ones who believe he is suffering from a severe psychiatric disorder which prevents him from understanding the reason behind his execution.
Fortunately, the Court is...
The experts agree that Panetti exhibits rational thought when being treated by anti-psychotic medication. Therefore, the Court orders a stay of Panetti's execution and remands this case to the trial court, with instructions for that court to direct Panetti to an appropriate criminal mental-health facility for treatment, including but not limited to, involuntary medication. If and when treating psychiatrists are able to make a determination that Panetti is competent, then Panetti is to be returned to death row, ordered to continue all psychiatric treatment, included force medications, and given the opportunity for a final appeal of his death sentence, in which he must raise any and all possible appellate issues.
The problem is that this Court, like the courts below, is not in the position to determine whether or not Panetti is competent. Several experts and his mental health history suggest that he is unable to rationally understand why he is being executed, and a rational understanding of that reason, though not required under Ford, is necessary to satisfy the Eighth Amendment and its attendant prohibitions against the execution of the insane. Because the Court lacks the means to determine whether Panetti has this understanding, the Court cannot make a final determination regarding Panetti's death sentence. However, the American ideal of justice, which has not always been followed by preceding courts, requires that the Court err on the side of the defendant's rights and issue a stay of execution until Panetti can be declared competent enough to have a rational understanding of why he is being executed.
Petitioner's brief, 1.
Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280, 322 (1976).
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