Supreme Court says no to executions
June 20, 2002 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Supreme Court says no to executions of mentally disturbed people. Wow.
posted by dwivian (72 comments total)
 
should have mentioned that the link is to a PDF of the ruling. Ugh.... I forget the protocols when I don't post links in a while.
posted by dwivian at 8:04 AM on June 20, 2002


A drop of sanity in the bucket.
posted by donkeyschlong at 8:06 AM on June 20, 2002


AP story here.
posted by espada at 8:07 AM on June 20, 2002


And, in fact, this may be a bad link anyway -- I grabbed the most recent ruling, as this was announced today. I've gotta move a little slower.

News story is horribly unhelpful:
Yahoo News
and CNN.....
posted by dwivian at 8:08 AM on June 20, 2002


In other news, thousands of death row inmates suddenly get lots stupider.
posted by UncleFes at 8:11 AM on June 20, 2002


hahaha

good one fes
posted by a3matrix at 8:13 AM on June 20, 2002


In other news, thousands of death row inmates suddenly get lots stupider.

They'd have a way to go to match a stupid comment like that.
posted by riviera at 8:14 AM on June 20, 2002


The case dealing with the death penalty is Atkins v. Virginia. Horn v. Banks, the case linked to above, deals instead with the mandatory nature of a Teague retroactivity analysis on federal habeas appeals. The slip opinion for the Atkins case is not yet available freely online, as far as I can tell.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:18 AM on June 20, 2002


My point was, riviera, that unless the Supreme Court also deigns to define what constitutes "retarded" or otherwise mentally incapable enough to render a person ineligible for execution, and we subsequently develop a tool to determine what someone's intelligence truly is (which is notoriously difficult and subjective) and whether or not they are (ahem) faking to avoid being killed (which I know seems just totally impossible, but it just might happen), then the situations this ruling was meant to address will certainly be perverted.
posted by UncleFes at 8:23 AM on June 20, 2002


UncleFes, I can't imagine too many people being able to fake being mentally retarded well enough, or long and consistently enough too fool a doctor who knows what he's looking for, when the accused (generally) would not.

Even in the unlikely scenario that someone could pull it off, giving someone life imprisonment instead of death doesn't seem like too great an assault on civilisation to me.
posted by stuporJIX at 8:36 AM on June 20, 2002


The link above is to State v. Horn, an opinion from last Monday. I don't think the Atkins opinion is online yet; when it is--guessing at the link by the docket number--it should be available here (PDF). Also: 2001 Term Opinions.
posted by subgenius at 8:39 AM on June 20, 2002


UncleFes, we let people off the hook for murder all the time for being "insane," while having little to gauge sanity on besides what some bearded pipe-smoking know-it-all who has talked to the suspect thinks.

I'll trust the experts to determine just how stupid someone is, but in the past few cases of putting the mentally challenged to death, it was pretty cut-and-dry, the people involved had IQs in the 50-70 range and the smarts of a child.

Besides the point, what's the worst possible outcome? That people exploit this and stay in prison (away from us) their whole lives instead of allowing the gov't to murder them on a set schedule? Oh, the horror.
posted by mathowie at 8:41 AM on June 20, 2002


retarded and mentally incapacitated are NOT necessarily the same thing... essentially, you have retardation, mental mental disorders, mental abnormalities, and psychopathic personalities to take into consideration as well...

In State v Carpenter (1995), the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that there cannot be violation of due process or equal protection because there is no universal definition of mental illness or dangerousness, and that the definition given by the state was related to the purpose of the law. What this means is that mental incapacity is judged on a case by case basis which you could argue is seemingly unfair and even unconstitutional. You could also argue the other way and declare that NOT handling each claim of mental incapacity on a case by case basis is ALSO unfair and unconstitutional. This seems to be a lose-lose situation.

To garner some sort of guidelines would be next to impossible imho since psychiatrists can barely define what mental incapacity entails and public sympathy for those truly disabled in some form of mental capacity is thrown out the window when mass murder or children are involved. I am not sure how we can define who can and cannot be executed by judging mental capacity alone.
posted by gloege at 8:44 AM on June 20, 2002


mathowie said: "Besides the point, what's the worst possible outcome? That people exploit this and stay in prison (away from us) their whole lives instead of allowing the gov't to murder them on a set schedule? Oh, the horror."

Do you really wish to support someone for life in a comfy prison cell? I know I do not... This certainly brings us back around to the entire death penalty debate, no?
posted by gloege at 8:45 AM on June 20, 2002


There are tests and standards that determine whether someone is entitled to special care and/or benefits based upon diminished mental capacity, UncleFes. There are tests and standards that determine whether someone suffers from 'diminished responsibility' when he or she commits a crime. These tests and standards aren't pass/fail like IQ tests: they're based on considered assessment within a social context.

Rather like all criminal cases, in fact.

So to regard this criterion as just a breed of 'stupid', that Death Row prisoners can emulate by putting on their best Dubya act, is frankly as offensive and distasteful as some of the comments in the 'fat' thread. Do you go around making faces at the town 'spastics'?
posted by riviera at 8:47 AM on June 20, 2002


I am against the death penalty, although I (probably) wouldn't be if I thought the US Justice system could infallibly figure out who was and was not guilty of capital crimes. But I completely don't understand the logic of saying that executing the mentally disabled is any more "cruel" than executing the mentally competent. Dead is dead. In fact, I'd says that the sentencing of someone to execution is more "cruel" to a person of normal intelligence, because they can conceptualize death and with therefore dwell on it. It's like there's this blind spot in the intelligence spectrum: animals that kill (i.e. dogs) get executed, mentally disabled persons do not get executed, mentally competent persons do get executed. I'd like, in all sincerity, to have someone explain the rationale behind this schema.

(Flameproofing: I'm not equating the mentally disabled with dogs. So please don't intentionally misunderstand that point.)
posted by Shadowkeeper at 8:53 AM on June 20, 2002


its ruling like this that give the american judiciary a bad name.
posted by johnnyboy at 8:56 AM on June 20, 2002


how about we don't kill anyone. um, yeah, it seems like the cp debate. it's an issue that defines us. i don't think anyone should be able to kill anyone, including anyone.
posted by folktrash at 8:56 AM on June 20, 2002


Do you really wish to support someone for life in a comfy prison cell?
I think it's already been covered here (though I can't find the link right now) that it's actually cheaper to keep someone locked up for fifty years than to have them executed, but that's beside the point. You might want to reexamine your money/life priorities.
posted by stuporJIX at 8:57 AM on June 20, 2002


its ruling like this that give the american judiciary a bad name.

You know, as long as we're ignorantly generalizing...it's people like you who give America a bad name.

And it's posts like these that give Metafilter a bad name
posted by thewittyname at 9:03 AM on June 20, 2002


Comfy prison cell? Mercy, we live in la-la land, don't we? I think we must be thinking of corporate criminals.
posted by hackly_fracture at 9:04 AM on June 20, 2002


But seriously, thank God for this ruling. This restores some of my faith in the Court. I'm grinning right now envisioning Scalia, Rehnquist and Thomas shitting themselves in anger.
posted by thewittyname at 9:06 AM on June 20, 2002


SK: I completely don't understand the logic of saying that executing the mentally disabled is any more "cruel" than executing the mentally competent. Dead is dead. In fact, I'd says that the sentencing of someone to execution is more "cruel" to a person of normal intelligence, because they can conceptualize death and with therefore dwell on it.

Bang on the money you are- dead is dead, cruel is cruel. The difference is, that the mentally competent adult who commits a crime is responsible for their actions; it could be argued that the mentally incompetent are not, therefore should not be punished in the same way. If you watch 'OZ' on HBO, the analogy would be the contrast between niave 'Cyril' and his manipulative brother, 'Riley'. And neither of them should be up for state-sanctioned murder.
posted by dash_slot- at 9:10 AM on June 20, 2002


Part of the logic behind the death penalty is deterrence: if you know you'll be killed for killing someone, supposedly you're a lot less likely to do it. If you're unable to comprehend that, you're not likely to be deterred. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in the opinion, "We are not persuaded that the execution of mentally retarded criminals will measurably advance the deterrent or the retributive purpose of the death penalty."

One of the saddest examples of this that I read (which I can't find a link to now) was the story of a retarded inmate's last meal before his execution. When he was asked why he hadn't eaten his dessert, he said he was saving it for later.
posted by megnut at 9:20 AM on June 20, 2002


If you enjoy the benefits of the society you live in, then you are liable for breaking its laws and subject to its punishments. This is true regardless of your race, gender, mental capacity, or any other factor beyond your control. Some people are dealt worse hands than others, but that does not mean that we are obliged to change the rules for them.

People are executed for murdering other people, not for understanding the rightness/wrongness of their act.
posted by rushmc at 9:24 AM on June 20, 2002


One of the saddest examples of this that I read (which I can't find a link to now) was the story of a retarded inmate's last meal before his execution. When he was asked why he hadn't eaten his dessert, he said he was saving it for later.

Some might argue that for one on death row, not seeing what was coming would be quite a blessing, psychologically and emotionally.
posted by rushmc at 9:25 AM on June 20, 2002


The difference is, that the mentally competent adult who commits a crime is responsible for their actions; it could be argued that the mentally incompetent are not, therefore should not be punished in the same way.

I guess this is the part I don't get.

It seems to me that there are three main arguments put forth for capital punishment: (1) Retribution, (2) Deterrence, and (3) uh, some word that means "taking criminals out so they cannot commit the same crimes again". It seems to me the someone who supports the death penalty for the third reason wouldn't care about the intelligence of the perpetrator. (Again: dead is dead.) I could maybe see "executing the mentally disabled doesn't deter mentally competent people from committing crime" and "retribution is a meaningless goal when someone is unable to understand the crime they have committed." But what I would really like is for someone here who is a supporter of the death penalty (and yet agrees with this ruling) to tell us which one (or combination) of the three aforementioned arguments they adhere to and how this ruling fits logistically into their overall philosophy of capital punishment.

On Preview: Part of the logic behind the death penalty is deterrence: if you know you'll be killed for killing someone, supposedly you're a lot less likely to do it. If you're unable to comprehend that, you're not likely to be deterred. Okay, I can see that.
posted by Shadowkeeper at 9:26 AM on June 20, 2002


Final opinion, as it turns out, is here. (The press reports have a different docket number than the published opinion.)
posted by subgenius at 9:27 AM on June 20, 2002


here a republican, there a republican, everywh -- fuck it
posted by folktrash at 9:27 AM on June 20, 2002


I'm categorically against the death penalty, so any ruling that limits its use cheers me. That said, it seems incredibly weird that someone with an IQ of 71 could be killed while someone with an IQ of 69 would be spared.

Even if the determination of retardation is left to expert opinion rather than raw IQ scores, cases where 2 experts say a defendant is retarded while 3 experts say he isn't seem inevitable.
posted by timeistight at 9:28 AM on June 20, 2002


"I think it's already been covered here (though I can't find the link right now) that it's actually cheaper to keep someone locked up for fifty years than to have them executed, but that's beside the point. You might want to reexamine your money/life priorities."

Um, no. My money and life priorities are just fine, thank you. And please by all means PROVE to me that it is cheaper to keep someone locked up for fifty years than it is to have them executed. I simply do not follow the logic (ooh lookie - there is NONE) and doubt you have any idea of which you speak.

"Comfy prison cell? Mercy, we live in la-la land, don't we? I think we must be thinking of corporate criminals."

Hey, they get shelter, three squares a day, cable television, a free education if they want it and a lovely gym. No wonder there are so many habitual offenders. The only ones in la-la-land are those who ignore the realities of prison life. I am not saying kill them all. I am saying make them earn their keep and require education and rehabilitation is all. However, that is another topic altogether.
posted by gloege at 9:33 AM on June 20, 2002


i believe the argument that it costs more to execute than to imprision, is based on the enormous legal fees associated with the many appeals it takes to have some one murdered by the courts.
posted by folktrash at 9:36 AM on June 20, 2002


And, those appeals are automatic, folktrash, to insure that we don't execute people who are innocent. The cost of execution, appeals, service staff to manage the execution, etc, exceed a long-term jail sentence and it's associated legal fees. It's known from analysis to be true.

gloege: ooh lookie - there is NONE
Plenty of logic, gloege. And, plenty of studies. Here's two for you to look up:
New York State Defenders Association, Capital Losses (1982).
U S. Government Accounting Office, Limited Data Available on Costs of Death Sentences (1989), p. 50.
posted by dwivian at 9:50 AM on June 20, 2002


People are executed for murdering other people, not for understanding the rightness/wrongness of their act.

So you'd abandon the distinction between degrees of murder, between murder and manslaughter, and the insanity defence? Well, it's good to have you here, visiting from the seventeenth century.

Actually, no, you're talking rubbish, because a conviction of 'murder' already relies to some extent on defendents 'understanding the rightness/wrongness of their act'.

and said gloege:

please by all means PROVE to me that it is cheaper to keep someone locked up for fifty years than it is to have them executed.

This one got covered last time around. And before you blame the high cost of appeals: are you advocating a fast-track execution policy, and damn the appeals process?
posted by riviera at 9:51 AM on June 20, 2002


Whoa - do not put words in my mouth riviera. I will be the FIRST to admit I am somewhat on the fence where the death penalty is concerned. Do I feel it is needed in every case where someone is sentenced to death - no. Do I like the current justice system and its seemingly inconsistent rulings - no. Do I like the current penal system that pretty much ignores juvenile offenders until they have done something REALLY terrible instead of rehabilitating them early - NO. Do I like the fact that my tax dollars go towards supporting people in prison when they could easily earn their own way - no. I believe some Texas prisons agree with me and require education and training and WORK from their prisoners. And yes, I know people are screaming about the prisoners' rights being violated. *snort*

The only thing I truly advocate is rehabilitation, education and enforcing prisoners to work for their keep. Everything else is up in the air and up for debate as far as I am concerned.

My issue was with the carte blanche statement without supporting fact that was used to attack what i had stated and not necessarily with what was stated... big difference. Sure I could get off my ass and google search but at the moment I happen to be busy.
posted by gloege at 9:58 AM on June 20, 2002


30 seconds with google provided the following link: The Economics of Capital Punishment. Let's argue having read the facts first, eh folks?
posted by salmacis at 10:04 AM on June 20, 2002


What salmacis said, and
Costs of the Death Penalty
posted by cowboy_sally at 10:09 AM on June 20, 2002


rushmc said: People are executed for murdering other people, not for understanding the rightness/wrongness of their act
Just wrong. That's why state laws make exceptions for "accidental" homicides like heat-of-passion murders and auto accidents. Generally, you must appreciate the nature of your actions to face the full brunt of capital punishment laws. I don't know why the mentally retarded would be treated differently.

gloege said: comfy prison cell
Yes, prison is a treat, except for the abuse by guards, abuse (sexual and other) by fellow prisoners, severely limited life options upon release from prison, etc. Let's not pretend most people go to prison because they like it there...

gloege also said: require...WORK from their prisoners
Wages for prisoners is hardly a controversy-free subject.

As for cost comparisons of life vs. death, here are the results of a California study. Because of legal expenses, it's more costly to execute. Maybe we could just forgo those pesky civil liberties protections....
posted by conquistador at 10:10 AM on June 20, 2002


From the Death Penalty Information Resource Center:

"Although the costs of incarceration are expensive (about $20,000 per year per inmate), that amounts to $600,000 to $800,000 depending on whether a person lives 30 or 40 years after their sentencing. The death penalty, on the other hand, costs about $2 million per execution."
posted by lilboo at 10:11 AM on June 20, 2002


Megnut,

You're thinking of Ricky Ray Rector, an Arkansas inmate who was convicted of killing two men: a bouncer and later, a policeman investigating the first murder. He shot himself in the head in an unsuccessful suicide attempt before being arrested. He actually survived, due to massive surgery, but a substantial amount of his brain had to removed in order to "save" him, rendering him severely mentally retarded. (source).

During his last meal, Rector wouldn't finish his slice of pecan pie. When asked why, he responded by saying that he was saving it "for later."

However, the reason this case is so famous is that at the time, 1992, the Arkansas governor was Bill Clinton, who was campaigning in New Hampshire. He flew back to Arkansas specifically to sign Rector's death certificate and deny his appeal for clemency.
posted by thewittyname at 10:15 AM on June 20, 2002


I just love the irony evident in this excerpt from the AP story:

Thursday's ruling is not grounded either in the Constitution nor in current social attitudes about the death penalty, Scalia wrote for himself and the other two dissenters.
"Seldom has an opinion of this court rested so obviously upon nothing but the personal views of its members."
In a separate dissent, Rehnquist said the majority went too far in looking at factors beyond the state laws. The majority puts too much stock in opinion polls and the views of national and international observers, Rehnquist wrote.


I would say that the court's appointment of George W. Bush as president rested "obviously upon nothing but the personal views of its members." As far as Rehnquist's complaint that the court follows th'opinion polls -- well, he certainly demonstrated his contempt for majority rule when he and his buddies stopped the recount in Florida and appointed the man who got 500,000 fewer votes than Al Gore.

It's fun to watch these guys get all apoplectic here on earth, because most of us won't be there to watch them roasting in hell.
posted by Holden at 10:25 AM on June 20, 2002


So, are we for the death penalty, or against it? I forget :)

My feelings on the death penalty can be summed here: while the criminal yet lives, he can victimize again, he can escape, he can be freed. The victims of his crimes, however, are dead forever. The only just punishment for some crimes is the life of the committer.

That said, I think the US will abolish the death penalty in the next 10 years. Popular opinion against it is rising. I disagree with the reasons, but that's life in a democracy.
posted by UncleFes at 10:33 AM on June 20, 2002


And, those appeals are automatic, folktrash, to insure...

here's the solution, to ensure that we never execute another innocent person:
don't execute anyone.
posted by folktrash at 10:35 AM on June 20, 2002


what's the issue here?

if the murderous beast happens to be retarded, you just tell him the chair's an amusement park ride.

sheesh...
posted by jcterminal at 10:38 AM on June 20, 2002


here's my last comment...

*smack* - mother spanks little johnny on his bottom for throwing grape juice on the rug. "no little johnny, no throwing."

*smack* - father spanks little johnny for playing with a lighter. "no little johnny, no playing with fire."

*smack* - little johnny hits his little sister.

*smack* - mother spanks little johnny for hitting his little sister. "no little johnny, no hit... *tears well up in her eyes*
posted by folktrash at 10:41 AM on June 20, 2002


folktrash: we could also ensure we'll never wrongly convict another innocent person by just deciding to
stop convicting anyone
but, you know, that's not a reasonable response. If we are going to have a death penalty, we have to decide why. If the why is reasonable to the society, then we have to use it wisely.

Cost is not a good reason (we've discussed that). It's also prone to failure in that it is improperly applied. I will not get into the racial issues (as I have seen both sides and am not convinced either way). It does deter the victim from ever commiting another act, criminal or otherwise, but seems to have no obvious deterrent effect on the general population. The only real reason for having it?

Permanent removal of unsavory elements from our society.

It's like we're waging war on ourselves, with a specialized form of genocide against specific criminals. I'd comment further, but you see where I'm going.

Oh, and until recently, I was strongly pro death penalty. Now I'm not so sure.
posted by dwivian at 10:53 AM on June 20, 2002


folktrash: well, we have the other side of that -- in our house, we try to avoid spanking unless absolutely necessary. In trying to explain to our 2yr old that what she was doing was wrong, she exclaimed

"Stop talking! It hurts me!"

So, you see, no matter what you do, when you try to train a hedonist to be a member of our society, they learn that the only way to civility is through pain.
posted by dwivian at 10:54 AM on June 20, 2002


"unsavory" in these cases means "convicted of having murdered at least one other person with the circumstances of the crime being heinous to such a degree that a jury (as opposed to a judge) has decided that the murderer should die for the crime."

Not "unsavory" as in "a guy who spits a lot."

When the justice system can guarantee that life imprisonment means exactly that - no escapes, no paroles, no halfway houses, no victimizing other people - I will support the abolition of the death penalty. Until then, it is still the most appropriate punishment for some crimes.
posted by UncleFes at 10:58 AM on June 20, 2002


i'm starting to wish that asteriod had hit us; rid this universe of our barbaric asses.

(this is my last comment)
posted by folktrash at 10:59 AM on June 20, 2002


That's why state laws make exceptions for "accidental" homicides like heat-of-passion murders and auto accidents.

Please present me with your argument that killing someone in an auto accident (by definition, accidental) is "murder."

I am not ready to dismiss intent as a mitigating factor in murder, however, so there is some validity to that argument, and I will think further on it.
posted by rushmc at 11:06 AM on June 20, 2002


no victimizing other people

And surely that should include fellow inmates...or have we decided they no longer qualify as "people?" I'm sure that many of you feel that Jeffrey Dahmer's end represented "justice," but if I rob a bank and am sent to prison, I'm pretty sure that my sentence didn't include being abused physically or sexually, much less maimed or murdered.
posted by rushmc at 11:09 AM on June 20, 2002


"Stop talking! It hurts me!"

So, you see, no matter what you do, when you try to train a hedonist to be a member of our society, they learn that the only way to civility is through pain.


Thing is, the child that learns to avoid negative behaviours (as defined by the parent) because they absolutely hate the lecture from more powerful people, will use that as a technique when they are a bigger, stronger possibly child-caring adult. And the child who is a victim of pain at the hands of more powerful people - they'll repeat their lessons, too.
posted by dash_slot- at 11:18 AM on June 20, 2002


rushmc:
How can an auto "accident" be murder? In some states: if the driver is impaired by alcohol. I think we would all agree that a drunk driver should be held accountable, even though we probably also consider the incident an "accident." Nevertheless, in many states, the driver can still be tried for murder. More detail.
posted by conquistador at 11:31 AM on June 20, 2002


dash_slot: more powerful people....

So, what makes me more powerful? My ability to talk? Or my ability to destroy the relative calm and safety of a two-year-old's life, if they don't agree to live within my rules?

I am still a monster, but now I am teaching her to use words to hurt. Not that girls need much education there, I've discovered in my few years on this planet (not that I'm bitter...)
posted by dwivian at 11:56 AM on June 20, 2002


shitting themselves in anger... i heard you say :)

it's like an oasis song!
posted by kliuless at 12:26 PM on June 20, 2002


And surely that should include fellow inmates...or have we decided they no longer qualify as "people?"

These are exactly the people I was talking about.
posted by UncleFes at 12:35 PM on June 20, 2002


Thanks thewittyname, that changes things quite a bit. I don't recall hearing that his diminished capactiy was self-inflicted when I read that story, though the pecan pie sounds right so that must be it.
posted by megnut at 12:42 PM on June 20, 2002


Dwivian: both.

But how are you a monster?

There are many ways that parents and other adults are more powerful - your modelling of behaviour is inestimably so. We can speak firmly, fairly and consistently, we don't need to teach our sprogs to be mean.
posted by dash_slot- at 12:48 PM on June 20, 2002


I think we would all agree that a drunk driver should be held accountable, even though we probably also consider the incident an "accident."

Well, if you define an "accident" strictly by the lack of intent or planning. I think you'd have to include something about culpability in a thorough definition, though.

Of course, some here would argue that an alcoholic is a victim of his or her addiction and incapable of choosing not to drink and drive, and therefore should be held as blameless as a mentally retarded murderer.

These are exactly the people I was talking about.

I figured as much, UncleFes...just spelling it out in case anyone missed it.
posted by rushmc at 12:51 PM on June 20, 2002


gleoge,

somewhere in there we found common ground, a small piece of one, anyway. I'm all for education of the incarcerated, as well. In fact, I used to teach in a prison during the last year of the Federal Pell Grants, which got rescinded because everyone was convinced that prisoners were leading comfy lives, including receiving a free education. I believe a lot of the gyms and other things you mentioned went away, too, though that varied from location to location.

Anyway, I still agree with conquistador that lack of freedom, by definition, is punishment enough to keep most people from voluntarily getting locked up. Cable TV just doesn't do it for me, I guess.
posted by hackly_fracture at 1:08 PM on June 20, 2002


Some more food for thought: Why Conservatives Should Oppose the Death Penalty.
posted by homunculus at 3:03 PM on June 20, 2002


but if I rob a bank and am sent to prison, I'm pretty sure that my sentence didn't include being abused physically or sexually, much less maimed or murdered.

So don't rob the damn bank. Millions of people make their way through life without committing a crime, if you choose to break the law - expect to get punished by society and whatever side consequences there are to that.
posted by owillis at 4:28 PM on June 20, 2002


The whole "cable TV" thing gets tossed around a lot, but today many of the most dangerous inmates are in fact housed in so-called supermax prisons, in solitary confinement 23 hours a day with no entertainment. While many have qualms about these prisons, they seem to handle the concerns Fes was talking about.

Also, many states do in fact have life-without-parole sentences, although the SC has ruled that jurors do not need to be informed of this, which may well result in people being sentenced to death out of a misplaced fear of their release.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:16 PM on June 20, 2002


I'm against the death penalty in all forms, but this is far more disgusting than the previous system.

Crime is crime. Looking at motives is pointless. If something happens, it happens. And if that means someone is going to get killed in your country, then so be it. Just because you have a mental health problem does not excuse you from your rights and responsibilities are a human being.

This is an insult to all those people on death row who only committed their crimes after being pushed over the edge, but who do not technically meet the criteria for being 'crazy' or 'nuts'.
posted by wackybrit at 6:42 PM on June 20, 2002


So don't rob the damn bank. Millions of people make their way through life without committing a crime, if you choose to break the law - expect to get punished by society and whatever side consequences there are to that.

Unconstitutional, immoral, petty and vindictive.

I do, however, agree with the part about not robbing the bank. It's good advice.
posted by rushmc at 7:48 PM on June 20, 2002


My point was, riviera, that unless the Supreme Court also deigns to define what constitutes "retarded" or otherwise mentally incapable enough to render a person ineligible for execution, and we subsequently develop a tool...

They're called IQ tests and a past history or professional estimation of getting below 70 is regarded as being retarded. Just like the exceptions that are made for the insane, there will be many tools and experts used to make the proper classification and regardless of attempts at abuse it can be done fairly. There will always be people that will outwit the system, this is assumed in criminal proceedings. Also its assumed that innocent people will be sent to prison. Ideally, you do what you can to minimize error and abuse. Just because there isn't perfect justice or new potential loopholes doesn't mean executing the retarded is morally correct.

People are executed for murdering other people, not for understanding the rightness/wrongness of their act.


Actually that's incorrect. People are punished for violating the law. A capital crime has to work within the legal infrastructive which consists of much more complex processes and principles than just this 'if you murder you die' mentality. Not to mention there's a legal precedent with the mentally insane about understanding, intent, etc. Law is not vigilante justice and due process should be respected.
posted by skallas at 8:07 PM on June 20, 2002


wackybrit:This is an insult to all those people on death row who only committed their crimes after being pushed over the edge, but who do not technically meet the criteria for being 'crazy' or 'nuts'.

First off, generally, to be found legally insane is to be found unable to grasp the differences between right or wrong. Insane in this sense doesn't mean intense depression, mania, or any other more 'typical' mental illness. Its a complete failure to understand the morality of murder. Insanity defenses will not work if someone was just moody or had a history of violence. It works if the person at the time could not understand what was going on and if this can be proven to the court's satisfaction.

Secondly, motives and intent is what law is all about. Here in the US we do not generally jail those found guilty of manslaughter but we certainly jail, and even execute, those found guilty of murder. The differences in degrees in muder have everything to do with intent and motives. Planning a murder in cold blood is a quick way to life in prison/execution, getting into a bar fight and killing someone without the intent to do so isn't.

This ruling is a fair one in my opinion and is one step closer to realizing the Constition's promise of due process and limitations on punishments.
posted by skallas at 8:17 PM on June 20, 2002


Thank you, skallas, for your contextual posts.

What some people are missing is the fact that this figures into the penalty phase of the proceedings, not into the question of guilt or innocence. You can be guilty of murder, even though you are mentally retarded.

To those who question it's use to excuse murder, it doesn't. The court made it clear that, in these specific cases where the criminal is proven mentally retarded, that the classic usage of the death penalty, to deter crime, is ineffectual, and therefore shouldn't be employed.

And, while no guidelines were issued, I think it's fair to assume that a person doesn't turn mentally retarded at the flick of a switch. Any persons bound to these definitions have a history of retardation. It should be rather obvious. Mental retardation is rather easy to prove, as opposed to insanity, and most defense attourneys will understand that. If that is the case, most defense attourneys will tend to go with insanity, instead, because it brings fact into question. It's not as easy to prove, and thus allows for reasonable doubt. Retardation is pretty cut and dry.
posted by Psionic_Tim at 9:39 PM on June 20, 2002


skallas: just a small quibble, but you shouldn't use "motive" and "intent" interchagebly. they are quite different, and motive has almost nothing to do with whether someone gets murder 1, murder 2 or manslaughter, although it may well affect whether someone convicted of murder 1 gets the death penality. Basically, intent is whether you meant to do what you did. Motive is WHY you did what you did.

also, if you kill someone in a barfight, there's a pretty good chance that you'll wind up with some type of murder charge. "gross recklessness" is a high enough mental state for 2nd degree murder in most states. you could posssibly get voluntary manslaughter, but only if you were experiencing an "extreme emotional disturbance" AND the person you killed provoked you. also, you'll almost definitely do time with a manslaughter charge. you might be thinking of negligent homocide which is a lesser crime than manslaughter.

alright, enough irrelevent legal analysis.

i think the decision is kind of interesting because as someone above pointed out, it is less about excessive cruelty to the prisoner as it is about our own discomfort with killing someone that cannot understand what is going to happen to him. but perhaps that what the eighth amendment has always been about: society's desire to feel 'civilized.' certainly the legal standard for determining whether a punishment is cruel and usually ('evolving standards of decency' or whatever it is) seems to suggest that the primary concern is for society and not prisoners.
posted by boltman at 9:49 PM on June 20, 2002


Does this all mean that if George Bush kills millions of Arabs he can't get put to death for it anymore? ;-)
posted by wackybrit at 10:51 PM on June 20, 2002


Does this all mean that if George Bush kills millions of Arabs he can't get put to death for it anymore? ;-)

Damn SCOTUS has been in Bush's back pocket all along, and they're still looking out for him, eh?

There there now, just kidding...wink...

Millions of people make their way through life without committing a crime, if you choose to break the law - expect to get punished by society and whatever side consequences there are to that.

Right on. Put 'em on "The Rack"...

"If you can't do 'The Rack', don't do the crime." Or how about thumbscrews: "If you can't do thumbscrews, don't do the crime." Or prison rape: "If you can't enjoy anal assault and the probable contraction of AIDS, don't do the crime".

Damn. Can't make it rhyme.

But you can be sure that state sanctioned murder gets people's attention. It's a deterrent, you know. Just look at how rare homicide and other violence is in the United States.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 11:11 PM on June 20, 2002


Seems to me that imprisoning the retarded is also cruel and unusual punishment! The bigger issue here is the lack of money spent on mental health in this country. When incompetent people are dumped on the street they are more likely to become victims of crime rather than criminals. Since the 60s the poor and mentally disabled have been dealt with by the criminal justice system rather than social services. How wrong...
posted by Mack Twain at 1:52 PM on June 21, 2002


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