NAMI Indiana opposes the death penalty for people living with serious mental illness.
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History of Death Penalty Exclusion Legislation in
Indiana and U.S.
1993 - Indiana General Assembly passed a bill exempting defendants with an intellectual disability.*
2002 - Indiana General Assembly passed a bill exempting juvenile defendants from the death penalty.*
2002 - United States Supreme Court ruled that execution of defendants with an intellectual disability violated the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
2005 - United States Supreme Court ruled that execution of juvenile defendants violated the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
2006 - Indiana State Senator Anita Bowser sponsored a bill (SB 66) to create an exemption for individuals with a serious mental illness. The bill was heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but was never called for a vote.
2007 - Sen. Bowser passed away of cancer in March 2007, and the Senate passed a resolution creating The Bowser Commission in her memory. The Bowser Commission was a bipartisan study committee that spent the summer of 2007 studying the possibility of exempting defendants with serious mental illness from the death penalty. Read the committee's final report here.
*The reasoning behind these exemptions was that, because of their disabilities or their youth, these defendants were less morally culpable than other murderers – not the “worst of the worst” for whom the death penalty was intended. They were less likely to be deterred by the fact that they might be executed – less able to reason through the consequences of their actions. And they were more vulnerable once they entered the criminal justice system, and less able to help their lawyers defend them.
All of these things are equally true for defendants who commit crimes while in the grip of a psychotic episode. After the decisions in Atkins and Roper, lawyers and mental health experts across the nation began to work toward exempting defendants with serious mental illness from the death penalty, as well.
Paula Sites, Assistant Executive Director of the Indiana Public Defender Council and board member of the Indiana Abolition Coalition contributed to this section.
The Cost of Capital Punishment for the Mentally Ill - Speech by NAMI Indiana Board Member Mike Kempf, delivered March 2, 2016.
She still believes the death penalty is constitutional, but former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton says it is “inefficient, ineffective and a great burden on our society."
Stratton, a Republican who served on the court from 1996 to 2012, testified today before a legislative committee in favor of a bipartisan bill that would ban the execution of people with diagnosed serious mental illness at the time of the crime.
Stratton said the U.S. Supreme Court has set limits on executing juveniles and people with developmental disabilities, but has thus far left it to the states to handle killers diagnosed with serious mental illness. She said that would include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depressive and delusional disorders.
“Do we as a society say we want to executive someone who has diminished capacity and mental Illness?” Stratton said at a Senate Criminal Justice Committee hearing on Senate Bill 162.
Lawmakers in Nebraska overrode Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto of their vote to repeal the death penalty, making it the first Republican-controlled state in the U.S. to repeal the death penalty since North Dakota in 1973. The vote was 30-19.
As we reported Tuesday, Ricketts, a Republican, vetoed the legislation flanked by law enforcement personnel, murder victims' family members and state lawmakers who support capital punishment. Opposition to the death penalty in the conservative state came from Republicans who were against it for religious or fiscal reasons, as well as from Democrats and independents.
"The efforts and arguments of Nebraska conservatives are part of an emerging trend in the Republican Party, evidenced by the involvement of conservative Republicans in legislative efforts to repeal the death penalty in other states, such as Kansas, Kentucky, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming," Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said in a statement.
Those who opposed capital punishment in Nebraska point out that the state hasn't executed a prisoner since 1997.