Mental Illness and the Death Penalty

 Defending those facing the death penalty brings Terry Lenamon into the heart of the issue of mental illness in this country and how that does (as opposed to should) impact the imposing of capital punishment on those convicted of serious crimes.

Mental Illness is an Issue in All Death Penalty Cases

We discuss aspects of mental illness and the death penalty regularly on this blog, because it is key to both the determination of guilt as well as the sentencing phase of any death penalty case and goes to mitigation issues. 



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Schizophrenia Doesn't Stop Execution of Mentally Ill Florida Death Row Inmate John Errol Ferguson This Week

SCOTUS on Mentally Ill and Death Penalty 

The Supreme Court of the United States has considered the issue of execution for those convicted of capital crimes but who are mentally ill either at the time the crime was committed or at the time of the scheduled execution. 


Ford v. Wainwright 

SCOTUS ruled it is unconstitutional to execute someone who suffers from a mental illness and cannot understand that they are facing death or the reasons why the government seeks to execute them.

Atkins v. Virginia 

SCOTUS held the government cannot execute someone with severe mental disability.


For legal analysis, see Schaaf, Rosalind. "The Death Penalty and Wrongful Convictions of the Mentally Disabled in America.Legal Studies Master’s Degree: Criminal Law.(2017). 


Resources for Study of Mental Illness and Capital Punishment

However, for those wanting to educate themselves with an overview of how mental illness does and does not impact the ability of the prosecutor to seek the death penalty as well as the power of the state to execute those who are clearly mentally ill, we offer the following for study:

1 Death Penalty Information Center on Mental Illness and the US Death Penalty

Collection of resources discussing various aspects of this issue, including case examples of the mentally ill who faced execution in this country.  

2.  Amnesty International Article "Death Penalty and Mental Illness"

Discussion of how mentally ill are executed in the United States with a link to Amnesty International's full report.  

3.  Mental Health America's Position Paper on Mental Illness and the Death Penalty

Position given on why capital punishment is not appropriate for those suffering from mental illness. 

4.  National Alliance on Mental Illness Position Policy on Death Penalty for Mentally Ill

Policy paper on why the death penalty is not appropriate for those who are mentally ill. 


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