Mentally Ill Offenders

Mohammed Yazdani 81-110-1 Dr James W. Houlihan November 23rd 2009

Execution of Mentally Ill Offenders

The Death Penalty has always been a controversial and much debated issue. When mentally ill offenders are added to the mix and sentenced to death in capital punishment trials, this complicates this issue even more. In 1972 the death penalty was banned but reinstated in 1976 by the Supreme Court. According to the American Civil Liberties Union there are approximately 3,400 inmates on the nation’s death row and 10% of them have some sort of mental illness, ranging from mild to severe. Since the resuming of executions in 1976, the Supreme Court has placed two major restrictions on the use of the death penalty. First, the Supreme Court case of Atkins v. Virginia, decided June 20th 2002, states that executions of mentally retarded criminals are of cruel and unusual nature which is prohibited in the Eighth Amendment. Secondly, in March 2005 the Supreme Court’s decision in Roper v. Simmons, abolished executions for persons under the age of 18 years. (French, 2005). In this paper, I will be addressing if a person with mental illness has the same amount of diminished culpability as a person with mental retardation and the primary moral, ethical dilemma that is faced by the criminal justice system if a mentally ill person is handed the death penalty.
Let me begin by defining the differences between mental retardation and mental illness in its simplest form. According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English language, mental retardation is defined by having subnormal intellectual development as a result of congenital illness, brain injury or disease and characterized by any of various cognitive deficiencies including impaired learning, social and vocational ability. While mental illness is defined as an impairment of an individual’s normal cognitive, emotional or behavioral functioning and caused by...