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Too crazy to be executed?

 
 
Reply Wed 18 Apr, 2007 08:49 am
In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to execute somebody who is clear­ly insane. But the court has never actually said what constitutes insanity for the purpose of determining whether somebody is competent to be executed.

Until now. The court will hear arguments Wednesday over whether a mentally ill Texas death row inmate should be executed for gunning down his in-laws in 1992 in front of his estranged wife and their 3-year-old daughter. Panetti v. Quarterman, No. 06-6407.

The inmate, 48-year-old Scott Panetti, apparently understands on some level that the state intends to execute him for the murder of his wife's parents, according to mental health experts who evaluated him. But he al­so apparently suffers from the delusional belief that he's being executed as part of a grand conspiracy by the "forces of evil" to prevent him from preaching the gos­pel.

...

Panetti was not only found competent to stand trial, he was also allowed to represent himself. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. And he went about trying to prove it at his trial, where he wore a purple cowboy outfit; rambled incoherently; peppered his remarks with phrases such as "pardner," "buckaroo" and "hosses"; badgered the judge and the prosecutor; asked incomprehensible questions of the witnesses; made bizarre comments to the jury; and tried to subpoena Jesus, the pope and John F. Kennedy, among others.

Full article here

For some excerpts of the trial transcript and other observations on Panetti's mental competence, click here (.pdf)

Apparently, the state of Texas's argument is that Panetti understands the connection between his death sentence and the killings, and that's all that the constitution requires. It also has argued that practically everyone on death row is mentally ill in some respect, so a ruling in favor of Panetti would open the floodgates to thousands of inmate appeals challenging their convictions (listen to Texas's side of the story on this NPR report here).

It's cases like this that highlight the gruesome absurdities of the death penalty. Why should anyone care, after all, if the prisoner can understand why he is going to be put to death? If the goal of capital punishment is deterrence, then we need only worry about the effect of the execution on others, not on the prisoner. On the other hand, if the goal is retribution, then why not be satisfied with the prisoner's death? Why is it necessary that he also understand his punishment?
 
Setanta
 
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Reply Wed 18 Apr, 2007 09:40 am
A very interesting and difficult subject. I was struck by this:

Quote:
"Mental illness is a fluid concept that could mean any­thing from being somewhat under par mentally through stark raving mad," says Georgetown Universi­ty law professor Paul Rothstein. "This case should help clarify where on the spectrum it becomes constitutionally impermissible to execute and what kind of mental illness will render a defendant unexecutable." (emphasis added)


It was unclear to me whether Mr. Rothstein meant that he thinks it is likely that the review of the case will clarify where on the spectrum it become consitutionally impermissible to execute; or that he thinks the Supremes are obliged to clarify that point.

This further remark about Mr. Rothstein's view does not answer that question for me:

Quote:
Georgetown's Rothstein hopes the court sides with Panetti, although he concedes that such an outcome could lead to further complications.


--athough it appears to me that he thinks it likely that the review of the appeal will clarify the issue.
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Joeblow
 
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Reply Wed 18 Apr, 2007 11:43 am
Thanks for the summary, and links.

Quote:
It's cases like this that highlight the gruesome absurdities of the death penalty. Why should anyone care, after all, if the prisoner can understand why he is going to be put to death? If the goal of capital punishment is deterrence, then we need only worry about the effect of the execution on others, not on the prisoner. On the other hand, if the goal is retribution, then why not be satisfied with the prisoner's death? Why is it necessary that he also understand his punishment?


Must we presume that the goal is either/or?
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joefromchicago
 
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Reply Wed 18 Apr, 2007 12:53 pm
Joeblow wrote:
Must we presume that the goal is either/or?

No, certainly not. There are five permissible goals of punishment: retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, restitution, and incapacitation. Rehabilitation and restitution are not attainable through capital punishment, so they are irrelevant. Incapacitation (i.e. preventing the prisoner from committing more crimes) is not enhanced by means of making the prisoner understand the nature of his punishment -- mental patients who are involuntarily committed are just as incapacitated as any prisoner, and no one is suggesting that we need to make them understand the nature of their commitment before we commit them.

That leaves only retribution and deterrence. But what is it about the retributive and deterrent aspects of capital punishment that require the prisoner to understand them? Why this emphasis on making the prisoner understand the nature of his punishment? Isn't it enough that the state gets to kill him? If he's going to die anyway, what difference does it make that he also understands the reason why he's going to die?
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fishin
 
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Reply Wed 18 Apr, 2007 01:39 pm
I'd need to look into this much, much deeper to get a real sense of this.

The guy was judged sane enough to stand trial. He was also allowed to represent himself in a capital murder case (which, IMO, should never be allowed to happen anyway but I guess that's irrelevant). But he isn't appealing either of those two rulings?

My understanding of the process is that the accused has to be both mentally competent to stand triial and mentally competent to be executed.

If he is now saying that he's not mentally competent to be put to death then why not appeal the competency ruling that allowed him to stand trial to begin with?

If he isn't appealing the initial trial and the ruling that allowed him to serve as his own counsel then it seems to me that he's in offering a de facto admission that he was mentally competent enough to be put to death.

Oiy! I need to read a whole lot more on this one.... *head spins*
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Joeblow
 
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Reply Wed 18 Apr, 2007 01:58 pm
Joefromchicago:

Perhaps it's part of the measure used to determine "sanity."

I'll try and listen to your third link when I get home.

(home in time to edit: I hadn't read your post fishin' before I posted mine. I'd started a rather lengthy muse, but erased it all, because I hadn't <haven't>t read the 1986 ruling). In short, I'd like more info, too.)

Bookmarking
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dlowan
 
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Reply Wed 18 Apr, 2007 03:44 pm
You guys REALLY don't have a definition?


I was sort of aware that it is easier to get an exemption for mental incapacity in the USA, but surely you have a definition?

Here and in the UK it around being unable to comprehend the nature of the act you are performing.

Of course, determining that is a complex bloody decision....we have had a lot of controversy around one such here recently, but normally it doesn't seem to raise too much drama, as people generally have to be floridly psychotic to qualify.
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fishin
 
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Reply Wed 18 Apr, 2007 04:17 pm
dlowan wrote:
Here and in the UK it around being unable to comprehend the nature of the act you are performing.

Of course, determining that is a complex bloody decision....we have had a lot of controversy around one such here recently, but normally it doesn't seem to raise too much drama, as people generally have to be floridly psychotic to qualify.


I think our's is pretty much the same definition. That "bloody complex decision" is what the courts have to sort out here.
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joefromchicago
 
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Reply Thu 19 Apr, 2007 08:33 am
I agree that the Panetti case is complicated, and it's a worthy topic to discuss in its own right, but I'm more interested in the fundamental question: why is it necessary for the death-row prisoner to understand the nature of his punishment?
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Joeblow
 
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Reply Thu 19 Apr, 2007 09:52 am
If he doesn't appreciate the potential consequences, how does he know how vigorously to prepare/pursue his defence?
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joefromchicago
 
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Reply Thu 19 Apr, 2007 10:30 am
Joeblow wrote:
If he doesn't appreciate the potential consequences, how does he know how vigorously to prepare/pursue his defence?

His "defense" is largely irrelevant at the point when the guards are strapping Panetti into the gurney. Remember, we're not talking about a sixth amendment right to effective assistance of counsel here, we're talking about an eighth amendment right to be free of cruel and unusual punishments. The lawyers in this case aren't saying that Panetti needs to be sane in order to pursue his appeals, they're saying that he needs to be sane in order to be executed.
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Joeblow
 
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Reply Thu 19 Apr, 2007 11:51 am
Thanks. That was helpful.

I think I need to read Ford v Wainright, which I found here, before I can muddle a guess at some of the arguments, but from my own perspective, I should think it were necessary partly to adhere to a premise of fundamental justice (as I understand it); that is,

Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.

I'll give it some more thought, and will read here with interest, but I don't think I can contribute effectively (heh, or knowledgably), much as I'd wish too.

Here, now, an aside: An individual needn't be floridly psychotic for me to be opposed to the death penalty.
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Debra Law
 
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Reply Thu 19 Apr, 2007 01:46 pm
Re: Too crazy to be executed?
joefromchicago wrote:
It's cases like this that highlight the gruesome absurdities of the death penalty. Why should anyone care, after all, if the prisoner can understand why he is going to be put to death? If the goal of capital punishment is deterrence, then we need only worry about the effect of the execution on others, not on the prisoner. On the other hand, if the goal is retribution, then why not be satisfied with the prisoner's death? Why is it necessary that he also understand his punishment?


Retribution is premised on the concept of "just deserts." This follows a subjective standard based on the convicted offender's point of view. Punishment as retribution is the suffering, pain, or loss that the offender is forced to endure because of his crime. Accordingly, the offender must be aware that the suffering society intends to inflict upon him is because of his crime. Otherwise, punishment as retribution makes no sense.

You appear to be applying an objective standard from a societal point of view. So long as society gets its "pound of flesh," what difference does it make if the offender understands why he is being put to death? The "pound of flesh" concept serves a different goal than the "just deserts" concept. The "pound of flesh" concept is punishment as vengence against the offender--not retribution.

"The pound of flesh which I demand of him Is deerely bought, 'tis mine, and I will haue it."

http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/284400.html

Although you're discussing mental illness--compare to mental retardation:

Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002)
http://laws.findlaw.com/us/536/304.html

Quote:
In light of these deficiencies, our death penalty jurisprudence provides two reasons consistent with the legislative consensus that the mentally retarded should be categorically excluded from execution. First, there is a serious question as to whether either justification that we have recognized as a basis for the death penalty applies to mentally retarded offenders. Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U. S. 153, 183 (1976), identified "retribution and deterrence of capital crimes by prospective offenders" as the social purposes served by the death penalty. Unless the imposition of the death penalty on a mentally retarded person "measurably contributes to one or both of these goals, it `is nothing more than the purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering,' and hence an unconstitutional punishment." Enmund, 458 U. S., at 798.

With respect to retribution--the interest in seeing that the offender gets his "just deserts"--the severity of the appropriate punishment necessarily depends on the culpability of the offender. Since Gregg, our jurisprudence has consistently confined the imposition of the death penalty to a narrow category of the most serious crimes. For example, in Godfrey v. Georgia, 446 U. S. 420 (1980), we set aside a death sentence because the petitioner's crimes did not reflect "a consciousness materially more `depraved' than that of any person guilty of murder." Id., at 433. If the culpability of the average murderer is insufficient to justify the most extreme sanction available to the State, the lesser culpability of the mentally retarded offender surely does not merit that form of retribution. Thus, pursuant to our narrowing jurisprudence, which seeks to ensure that only the most deserving of execution are put to death, an exclusion for the mentally retarded is appropriate.

With respect to deterrence--the interest in preventing capital crimes by prospective offenders--"it seems likely that `capital punishment can serve as a deterrent only when murder is the result of premeditation and deliberation,' " Enmund, 458 U. S., at 799. Exempting the mentally retarded from that punishment will not affect the "cold calculus that precedes the decision" of other potential murderers. Gregg, 428 U. S., at 186. Indeed, that sort of calculus is at the opposite end of the spectrum from behavior of mentally retarded offenders. The theory of deterrence in capital sentencing is predicated upon the notion that the increased severity of the punishment will inhibit criminal actors from carrying out murderous conduct. Yet it is the same cognitive and behavioral impairments that make these defendants less morally culpable--for example, the diminished ability to understand and process information, to learn from experience, to engage in logical reasoning, or to control impulses--that also make it less likely that they can process the information of the possibility of execution as a penalty and, as a result, control their conduct based upon that information. Nor will exempting the mentally retarded from execution lessen the deterrent effect of the death penalty with respect to offenders who are not mentally retarded. Such individuals are unprotected by the exemption and will continue to face the threat of execution. Thus, executing the mentally retarded will not measurably further the goal of deterrence.

The reduced capacity of mentally retarded offenders provides a second justification for a categorical rule making such offenders ineligible for the death penalty. The risk "that the death penalty will be imposed in spite of factors which may call for a less severe penalty," Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U. S. 586, 605 (1978), is enhanced, not only by the possibility of false confessions,25 but also by the lesser ability of mentally retarded defendants to make a persuasive showing of mitigation in the face of prosecutorial evidence of one or more aggravating factors. Mentally retarded defendants may be less able to give meaningful assistance to their counsel and are typically poor witnesses, and their demeanor may create an unwarranted impression of lack of remorse for their crimes. As Penry demonstrated, moreover, reliance on mental retardation as a mitigating factor can be a two-edged sword that may enhance the likelihood that the aggravating factor of future dangerousness will be found by the jury. 492 U. S., at 323-325. Mentally retarded defendants in the aggregate face a special risk of wrongful execution.



See also Wikipedia:

"The goal of retribution is not served by imposing the death penalty on a group of people who have a significantly lesser capacity to understand why they are being executed."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atkins_v._Virginia
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joefromchicago
 
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Reply Thu 19 Apr, 2007 03:14 pm
Re: Too crazy to be executed?
Glad to see you back, Debra.

Debra Law wrote:
Retribution is premised on the concept of "just deserts." This follows a subjective standard based on the convicted offender's point of view. Punishment as retribution is the suffering, pain, or loss that the offender is forced to endure because of his crime. Accordingly, the offender must be aware that the suffering society intends to inflict upon him is because of his crime. Otherwise, punishment as retribution makes no sense.

Actually, that reasoning serves as a greater justification for torturing the prisoner than for killing him -- which, as I've argued elsewhere, death penalty proponents should be advocating.

Debra Law wrote:
You appear to be applying an objective standard from a societal point of view. So long as society gets its "pound of flesh," what difference does it make if the offender understands why he is being put to death? The "pound of flesh" concept serves a different goal than the "just deserts" concept. The "pound of flesh" concept is punishment as vengence against the offender--not retribution.

I'm not entirely sure why the "just deserts" argument has any weight in death penalty cases. I can see how someone would argue that a prisoner convicted of a non-capital should have some understanding of the nature of his punishment, because we should expect that this knowledge will have some sort of salutary effect on him -- i.e. the prisoner will either ponder on his crimes and resolve not to commit them again, or at least consider the grave consequences of his actions. For the death penalty inmate, however, the lesson is lost on him, since he won't have any opportunity to act on it after the state has exacted its punishment.

Indeed, at the point where the state decides to kill a prisoner, it seems to me that the prisoner's life (or, more accurately, the act of killing him) is not foremost a concern of the prisoner. Rather, it is the state's interests that must be served first. And I just don't see why the state should make sure that the prisoner understands the nature of his punishment as a means of advancing the state's interests in seeing that the punishment is carried out.
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joefromchicago
 
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Reply Thu 19 Apr, 2007 03:18 pm
Re: Too crazy to be executed?
Oh, and as for Atkins v. Virginia, we're not talking about someone who was mentally ill at the time he committed his crimes and who, therefore, did not fully appreciate the criminality of his actions. As I understand the Panetti case, the defense is arguing only that Panetti is mentally ill now, and that fact alone (disregarding any evidence that he was insane at the time of the murders) exempts him from the death penalty.
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Thomas
 
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Reply Thu 19 Apr, 2007 03:43 pm
joefromchicago wrote:
But what is it about the retributive and deterrent aspects of capital punishment that require the prisoner to understand them? Why this emphasis on making the prisoner understand the nature of his punishment?

I don't support capital punishment at all, but here's a try: perhaps you're looking at the wrong prisoner. In Panetti, the Supreme Court will develop legal rules that won't just apply to Mr. Panetti. They will also apply to other persons like Panetti who are deciding right now whether or not to kill someone. These persons' murderous impulses may be deterred by capital punishment -- but only if they understand what capital punishment means. With people like Mr. Panetti, the law is in the position of a deconstructionist mobster: it makes them an offer they can't understand. The Supreme Court may well conclude that it's better not to make any offer at all.
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fishin
 
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Reply Thu 19 Apr, 2007 03:59 pm
For those following along this is a good link with discussion on the case and lots of additional links to the lower courts transcripts as well as USSC briefs on the case:

http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/06-6407.html

Still trying to read up....
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Thomas
 
  3  
Reply Thu 19 Apr, 2007 04:08 pm
Re: Too crazy to be executed?
joefromchicago wrote:
Oh, and as for Atkins v. Virginia, we're not talking about someone who was mentally ill at the time he committed his crimes and who, therefore, did not fully appreciate the criminality of his actions. As I understand the Panetti case, the defense is arguing only that Panetti is mentally ill now, and that fact alone (disregarding any evidence that he was insane at the time of the murders) exempts him from the death penalty.

I just notice that I missed this argument. I agree the insanity at the time of execution should be irrelevant.
joefromchicago
 
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Reply Fri 20 Apr, 2007 07:56 am
Re: Too crazy to be executed?
Thomas wrote:
I agree the insanity at the time of execution should be irrelevant.

Awww, Thomas, it's no fun if you agree with me!
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dlowan
 
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Reply Fri 20 Apr, 2007 08:28 am
Whole damn thing is insane.


Expecting sanity in processes for murdering people to punish them for murdering people is like expecting normal reality in Mad Magazine.


You'll go mad trying to find it.
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