Over in Alabama, Death Row Inmate Vernon Madison was found guilty of capital murder several years ago.  He was sentenced to death.

As he lived his live on Death Row and waited to die at the hands of the State of Alabama, Mr. Madison’s health declined.  He suffered several strokes.  His doctors determined that he suffered from  vascular dementia.

This led to his defense lawyers to file for a stay of his execution.  The reason being that now, given his current condition, he was mentally incompetent.  A key point to their argument:  Vernon Madison can not remember committing the crime for which he had been sentenced to death.

Alabama brought forth two SCOTUS decisions: Ford and Panetti, arguing that they were based upon the convicted individual suffering from gross delusions.  It is not contested that Vernon Madison does not experience delusions.

Read Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399, 106 S. Ct. 2595, 91 L. Ed. 2d 335 (1986).

Read Panetti v. Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930, 127 S. Ct. 2842, 168 L. Ed. 2d 662 (2007).

The case wound its way through to the Supreme Court of the United States, which issued its opinion (over a vigorous dissent by Justices Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch), making things clear for Death Row inmates who have lived so long under the threat of execution that they now suffer from aging issues like dementia.

Dementia and the Death Penalty

From the majority opinion in Madison v. Alabama:

[T]wo matters disputed below should now be clear.  First, under Ford and Panetti, the Eighth Amendment may permit executing Madison even if he cannot remember committing his crime.

Second, under those same decisions, the Eighth Amendment may prohibit executing Madison even though he suffers from dementia, rather than delusions.

The sole question on which Madison’s competency depends is whether he can reach a “rational understanding” of why the State wants to execute him. Panetti, 551 U. S., at 958.