Mental Illness and the Death Penalty

Executing mentally ill prisoners has been a controversial topic for decades. The U.S. Supreme Court has found that such executions are unconstitutional. Although public opinion is somewhat mixed and understudied, national societies such as the American Psychological Association oppose executing the mentally ill. The legal system asks mental health professionals to determine a prisoner's competency for execution. Incompetent prisoners can be medicated so that they can become competent and thus be executed. Many professionals find this practice unethical.

In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court in Ford v. Wainwright determined that it was unconstitutional to execute a prisoner who became mentally incompetent after his conviction. Such an execution was said to “offend humanity” and violate the country's “evolving standards of decency.” Thus, the execution was a ...

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