Death Penalty for the Mentally Ill
The Psychologist JoAnna A. De Leon May 19, 2010 CJ233: Introduction to Forensic Psychology INSTRUCTOR: Janice Walton To determine the mental status and competency of an individual, one must spend time to question and study the person, definitely spend more than 10 minutes with the patient. Many laws have been established and put into place to protect the young, the old, the innocent and the mentally ill. Trial competence is different from being criminally responsible for your actions.
Trial competence refers to the current ability of the defendant to understand and participate in the trial process. The United States Constitution states that a person accused of a crime must be given the opportunity to appear and be present at his trial as well as to face their accuser. The physical presence of oneself is not sufficient or acceptable to be tried in court, a defendant must be mentally present as well.
Specific criteria’s vary from state to state and federal jurisdiction but is all similar in the fact that if a defendant does not understand the charges being brought against himself, the proceedings that are taking place, or the ultimate outcomes of the trial, than he will not be able to reasonable assist in his own defense, in which he will be considered to be incompetent to stand trial. The state of Texas accounts for approximately two thirds of all executions in the United States since 1977, and of those executions, Texas is also considered to be ranked in the top for executions of mentally impaired prisoners.
The state of Texas has killed at least twenty-four mentally retarded or mentally ill prisoners who were diagnosed with illnesses ranging from schizophrenia to post traumatic stress disorder and even brain damage. In 2000, the Texas Attorney General, John Cornyn claimed that the Texas justice system “offers no less than five separate procedural protections for capital murder defendants who may have any form of mental incapacity”. He stated there is a “five layered system of safeguards ensuring due process for all mentally impaired defendants” which consist of he following: * No person may be put to trial unless he is mentally competent to understand the charges against him and to assist his attorneys at trial * No person may be convicted of a crime unless the state proves beyond a reasonable doubt to the jury that the defendant intended to commit the criminal act * It is a defense to prosecution for a crime if a defendant shows he was mentally unable to know that his conduct was wrong * In the punishment phase of a capital murder case, a defendant may present to the jury any and all evidence of mental impairment in mitigation against a death sentence * A death row inmate cannot actually be executed unless he is mentally competent, which means that he understand that he is going to be executed and the reasons why Hundreds of prisoners that have already been condemned, were executed without ever being given a thorough psychiatric evaluation. Many mentally ill defendants have been allowed to act as their own defense counsel, waive their rights to appeal and have even been allowed to volunteer to be executed. Some prisoners have even given medications so that they could be “sane” or “competent” enough to be aware of what was happening to them when being executed.
While researching this subject, many sites and reports have cited the case of Scott Panetti who was sentenced to the death penalty in 1995 for killing his mother and father in law. Scott Panetti had been hospitalized over a dozen times leading up to the killings with hallucinations. He was allowed to represent himself in court in which he dressed as a cowboy and acted delusional at times. His case was under appeal until his execution in 2008. Competency to stand trial is adjudicated in a court hearing prior to trial in an effort to achieve procedural fairness of the criminal proceedings against the defendant. There must be an agreement that the defendant comprehends what is happening to him and can effectively participate and respond in order to defend himself.
As a defendant, he has the right to not only be present in court, but to also understand in lay mans terms the legal proceedings that taking place against him. As a society, we must ensure that all people, including the mentally impaired, receive a fair trial. The court will also define reasonable degrees of understanding. The competence to understand simple charges is different than competence to understand a complex charge. A defendant may be competent to stand trial with the assistance of an attorney and not competent to stand trial if it is assumed that he will represent himself. A competent assessment will focus on a defendants capacity to participate in the process, not the willingness to participate.
The skills to assist an attorney are usually impaired because of the defendants irrational thoughts that the defense attorney is against the best interests for him. As a psychologist who has been ordered to study a patient and determine his competency to stand trial, I would need to focus and review many different factors. In the case of Edward Wilson, who is accused of murdering his parents in their home, there is much to be reviewed. I would need to question Mr. Wilson to be able to get a feel and understanding of his mental illness if he has one. I would want to ask questions such as: * Is there history of any drug and/or alcohol abuse * What is the family mental health like?
Do mom and dad have mental health problems? * At what age were these illnesses diagnosed? * What was his reaction to the killings? Any remorse or regret? * Does he understand what he has done? In order to conduct a complete mental evaluation as ordered by a judge, I must not only speak to the patient himself, but also to others who have spent time around him. I would like to question any brothers or sisters and discuss Edwards behavior growing up. I would like to talk with his sister about the incident in which he choked her in the dining room, find out what lead up to that event and explosion on his behalf. I would also want to talk to any close friends including girlfriends.
I think it would be important to meet with current or previous employers to see what type of work ethics he held and what type of relationship he held with his co-workers. I think it is important to speak with anyone who has spent time with Edward and might be able to share information that would be able to prove his mental state whether it be competent or not. At this point in time, I would consider Edward a danger to not only himself, but to those around him. I would want to take into careful consideration the violent outbursts he has previously had as well as the murders of his parents. The fact that he had already been diagnosed with mental disorders nd was not able to ensure he took his medications on his own, is reason enough for me to believe he cannot be trusted to live on his own without being a threat to others, therefore, I believe he would need to be institutionalized for the remainder of his life. Obviously a person with a mental disability is not able to comprehend the rights and wrongs of life, and that is the reason they are diagnosed with mental disabilities. Although, a person with mental disabilities with violent tendencies to need to be monitored very closely, whether it be by family members or a caseworker of some sort. Edward is obviously delusional and does not understand that the killings of his parents is one of the worst crimes a human being can commit. If Edward is deemed to be able to function as a normal human with the assistance of medications, perhaps he can work in the institution he will be sent to.
I don’t believe though, that Edward should be sent to a general public prison, as that will only make him an easy target as a victim of a sexual abuse or violent crime. References * Retrieved from website on May 20, 2010: http://www. oag. state. tx. us/oagNews/release. php? id=2818 * Retrieved from website on May 20, 2010: http://www. nami. org/Content/NavigationMenu/Inform_Yourself/About_Mental_Illness/About_Mental_Illness. htm * Retrieved from website on May 23, 2010: http://www. nmha. org/go/information/get-info/mi-and-the-family/recognizing-warning-signs-and-how-to-cope * Retrieved from website on May 23, 2010: http://www. deathpenaltyinfo. org/time-death-row * Retrieved from website on May 23, 2010: http://www. unl. edu/ap-ls/student/CST%20assess. pdf