Often times lawbreakers enjoy arguing to justify a crime they committed by saying that they do not remember such a thing happening. In some cases, their argument is valid, but in most cases it is a pitiful excuse to stall punishment. This legal issue was raised in the Supreme Court case, Vernon Madison v.
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State of Alabama, where a man sits on Alabama’s death row after killing a police officer. The issue questions whether or not Vernon Madison’s eighth amendment right is being violated. To consult this matter, both parties and Judges from the circuit and trial courts used the Ford and Panetti standard to analyze this case.
The Ford and Panetti standard refers to two separate precedent cases that involved similar circumstances. To better understand the Ford and Panetti standard, it is important to understand the importance of the outcomes from both cases. In the Ford case decided in 1986, a Florida court sentenced Alvin Bernard Ford to death for first-degree murder. From the time of the murder, trial and sentencing phase, Ford was not suffering from any mental defects. After he was sentenced to death, his mental health deteriorated. After much litigation, in a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court held that English common law found executing the insane savage and inhumane. In the Panetti case, Scott Louis Panetti was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to death. In a psychiatric evaluation, it was found that Panetti was aware of his crime and because of that the district court found him sufficiently sane to be executed. The U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed this decision, but the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed. In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that the Fifth circuit’s analysis of Panetti’s mental condition was treated as irrelevant as long as he was somewhat aware of the state’s reasoning of putting him to death. The court also stated that the state unreasonably applied Ford by failing to give Panetti a fair chance to present his psychiatric evidence. With this, the court expressed that they hoped that future expert psychiatric evidence would magnify which delusions might distort an inmate’s sense of reality so much as to render him incompetent to be executed.
Initially, the state of Alabama ruled against Madison stating that the defendant did not make a threshold showing insanity. Meaning Madison failed to show that he is delusional. The U.S. Court of Appeals reversed holding that when dementia is accepted as a relevant basis for incompetency, he’s clearly incompetent.
In oral argument, the petitioner argues before the Supreme Court that someone who has a disability that renders them inept to the time, place, or rationally understanding the circumstances of their offense, then they are incompetent; backed by proven medical records and accounts of past situations.
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