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Commentary


NMHA: Bar executions of mentally ill defendants

Vol. 01, No. 8 / August 2002
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The National Mental Health Association (NMHA) commends the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that executing people with mental retardation is unconstitutional and cruel.

The ruling is confined to people with mental retardation, generally defined as those having an IQ of 70 or lower; NMHA urges the Supreme Court to make the same ruling for defendants with mental illness.

NMHA believes that mental illness can influence an individual’s mental state at the time he or she commits a crime, can affect how “voluntary” and reliable an individual’s statements are, can compromise the defendant’s competence to stand trial and to waive his or her rights, and may affect the defendant’s knowledge of the criminal justice system.

We are not suggesting that people with mental illness be exempt from criminal sanctions. We just feel that their punishment should not include the death penalty, which, for this population, is cruel.

The court is on the mark in recognizing a growing national consensus against using the death penalty on certain populations who do not fully understand the crime they have committed or its consequences. Defendants who have a mental illness, like those who have mental retardation, should not be executed.

Michael M. Faenza, MSSW President and CEO National Mental Health Association

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