According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, mental illnesses are described as “medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning”. This means that individuals suffering from mental illness are susceptible to be out of control or lose control of their actions because of their mental disabilities.
There is currently no law that prohibits handing down the death penalty to an individual who is mentally ill but according to the US Supreme Court individuals who have been sentenced to death need to know understand and know the reason why they are being sentenced to death (McCullough, 2019). The US Supreme Court says that if an individual is mentally ill, they are less morally culpable than a sane person and this factor should be considered before taking an individual’s life (‘Mental Illness’, 2018). Morally, they believe it is wrong to execute an individual with a mental illness. They believe that individuals with mental disabilities should be exempted from the death penalty, there are however loopholes to this.
If a bill was to be passed, that bans handing down the death penalty to individuals with mental illnesses, it will be hard to determine what illnesses are severe and whether an individual was under psychosis or suffering from an episode when the crime was committed. With that being said it would be troublesome and slightly challenging for the US Supreme Court to classify which group of mentally ill defendants should be excused from receiving the death penalty and whether their mental illness affected their choices when they committed the crime (‘Mental Illness’, 2018).
According to the article by Mental Illness numerous states have thought about creating a bill against executing individuals with mental illnesses but none have yet to be passed.
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Texas is currently working on a bill that would stop Texas from sentencing criminals with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder or severe bipolar disorder to death. On 8 May 2019 the Texas House of Representatives passed a law that “that would prohibit handing down a death sentence to someone with a severe mental illness, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder” (McCullough, 2019). This new bill states that if defendants provided proof during the trial that they were “severely mentally ill at the time of the crime” and the jury accepts the proof, then the individual will not have to get the death penalty but rather life in prison (McCullough, 2019). The bill passed on 9 May 2019 but stilled needed “to pass the Senate and get signed by governor Greg Abbott to become law” (Young, 2019).
According to an article written by the Texas Tribune “despite bipartisan support” the bill to prevent those suffering from mental illnesses from receiving the death penalty fails. This means that the bill did not become law. The reason this bill did not become law was due to the fact that as members of both the Texas House and Texas Senate could not come to an agreement (Byrne and McCullough, 2019). Members of both the Texas house and Senate were tasked with writing a report about the differences between the amended bill and previous bill on the case but failed to submit a report by the deadline (Byrne and McCullough, 2019). According to the U4 Anti – Corruption Resource Centre, “interest groups are associations of individuals or organizations that on the basis of one or more shared concerns, attempts to influence public policy in its favor usually by lobbying members of the government”. I think that interest groups might have slightly influenced the choice made by the members of the legislature but there is no proof of that.
There are several articles that favor and do not favor the banning of the death penalty as a sentence for those diagnosed with mental disabilities. According to an article in The New York Times, there has been instances where individuals have been sentenced to death even when there is evidence that they are mentally ill. An example of such instances would be Dylann S. Roof, Andrew H. Brannan and John E. Ferguson (Dewan, 2017), these are a few examples where mentally ill criminals were treated exactly like normal criminals. The American Bar Association says that it would be “wrongful” to punish mentally ill individuals (Dewan, 2017) and other organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness oppose the execution of mentally ill and mentally disabled individuals.
Since the legislation session ended shortly after the bill was rejected the only chance it could be discussed more and implemented any time soon is if the governor was to hold an emergency session or a special session. The bill is important, and the governor should hold special session for it. The death penalty is a serious punishment and if mentally disabled individuals were sentenced to death because there was no law against it would negatively affect the image of the government and of Texas.
To conclude, personally, I do not think nor believe that the death penalty should be implemented at all. Rather than having a death penalty, criminals should be sentenced to life in prison so that they can pay for their sins. Mentally ill criminals should be sent to psychiatric prisons so that they can be treated. Mentally ill criminals might not be aware of the decisions they make and actions they take, so in order for them to be punished properly they should be treated first.
- Byrne, Elizabeth, and Jolie McCullough. “Despite Bipartisan Support, Texas Bill Tackling Intellectual Disability in Death Penalty Cases Fails”. The Texas Tribune, The Texas Tribune, 26 May 2019, http://www.texastribune.org/2019/05/26/Texas-death-penalty-intellectual-disability-fails/. Accessed 8 November 2019
- Chammah, Maurice. “He’s Living with Severe Mental Illness. Should He Face the Death Penalty?”. The Marshall Project, The Marshall Project, 17 Apr. 2019, http://www.themarshallproject.org/2019/04/17/he-s-living-with-severe-mental-illness-should-he-face-the-death-penalty. Accessed 8 November 2019.
- Dewan, Shaila. “Does the U.S. Execute People with Mental Illness? It’s Complicated”. The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Mar. 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/us/mental-illness-death-penalty.html. Accessed 10 November 2019.
- “Influence of Interest Groups on Policy-Making”. U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, 12 June 2012, http://www.u4.no/publications/influence-of-interest-groups-on-policy-making Accessed 10 November 2019.
- McCullough, Jolie. “Texas House OKs Bill to Ban Death Penalty for Those with Severe Mental Illness”. The Texas Tribune, The Texas Tribune, 8 May 2019, http://www.texastribune.org/2019/05/08/texas-death-penalty-rules-could-change-some-mentally-ill-defendants/ Accessed 8 November 2019.
- “Mental Illness”. Death Penalty Information Center, 7 Dec. 2018, http://deathpenaltyinfo.org/policy-issues/mental-illness Accessed 8 November 2019.
- Young, Stephen. “Texas House Votes to Limit Death Penalty for Mentally Ill Defendants”. Dallas Observer, 4, 10 May 2019, http://www.dallasobserver.com/news/texas-house-votes-to-limit-death-penalty-for-mentally-ill-11661703 Accessed 8 November 2019.