Time to end death penalty prosecutions of the mentally ill

In light of the life-without-parole sentences imposed on Theodore Kaczynski (the Unabomber), Jared Loughner (who shot and killed Congresswoman Gabriele Giffords and a federal judge) and James Eagan Holmes (who shot and killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado), that “mark the progress of a maturing society,” I believe our society’s “evolving standards of decency” have reached a point where Congress and our state legislatures should pass legislation that prohibits executing the mentally ill for murders they committed. At long last, have we not reached the point where reasonable and thoughtful people can conclude that executing the mentally ill violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment?

In Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 100-101 (1958), Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote,

This Court has had little occasion to give precise content to the Eighth Amendment, and, in an enlightened democracy such as ours, this is not surprising. But when the Court was confronted with a punishment of 12 years in irons at hard and painful labor imposed for the crime of falsifying public records, it did not hesitate to declare that the penalty was cruel in its excessiveness and unusual in its character. Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349. The Court recognized in that case that the words of the Amendment are not precise, and that their scope is not static. The Amendment must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.

(Emphasis added)

Each of these men committed atrocious and heinous multiple murders. Each of them was schizophrenic and delusional when they committed the murders. When a person kills another human being while gripped by delusions caused by a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, it makes no sense to hold that person accountable for what he did by executing him. Indeed, such an execution serves only a desire for vengeance, which is not a legitimate societal interest. Moreover, since they have lost the capacity to reason through no fault of their own, it certainly does not deter other mentally ill people from killing.

I previously warned that the James Holmes death penalty trial is a colossal waste of time and money. Let us join together and vow to never again make this mistake.

8 Responses to Time to end death penalty prosecutions of the mentally ill

  1. bettykath says:

    Fabulous news: http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/08/13/connecticut-abolishes-death-penalty-bans-further-executions

    “The court concluded that the death penalty violates the state’s constitution because of: “the freakishness with which the sentence of death is imposed; the rarity with which it is carried out; and the racial, ethnic, and socio-economic biases that likely are inherent in any discretionary death penalty system.”

    The state previously banned the death penalty legislatively, but didn’t address those already sentenced to death. This decision eliminates the death penalty for them as well.

  2. GB says:

    Reblogged this on Trial by Media and commented:
    Right. It’s about time district attorneys stopped seeking the death penalty in cases where the accused is evidently suffering from severe mental illness. It’s a waste of money, and morally wrong.

  3. bettykath says:

    Are psychopaths mentally healthy? I think not. The schizophrenic person might kill many people in one incident, the psychopath might kill many, one person at a time. Both are likely to kill again if given the chance. Both should be locked up for the rest of their lives.

  4. knowlyn says:

    True. Although I can’t help but add that I wish for this: “Time to end all death penalty prosecutions.”

  5. Malisha says:

    Hear Hear. Not only should we not be trying the mentally ill as if they were NOT mentally ill, we should be identifying those parts of our culture and society (exalting violence, easy purchase of weapons and weapon systems of mass destruction, failure of our health care system to really CARE, etc.) that make us complicit in the crimes committed by addled brains and damaged individuals. We as a society are not taking responsibility for the crimes we enable our class of mentally ill “emotion-mongers” to commit for our public theater. Just as a given child in a dysfunctional family may become the “actor-outer” for the whole family’s unfitness, so our dramatic psycho-killers have become the nearly-designated metaphors for our social and psychological dysfunctions as a society. So the intelligent but mind-broken carrot-top “superhero” shoots up a theater and we go through the paroxysms we need to reach our… oh nevermind.

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