EXECUTION OF MENTALLY CHALLENGED PERSONS
This research paper discusses the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court concerning the constitutionality of executing mentally challenged persons.
Ever since the Court first applied the Eighth Amendment to ban the use of the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), a centrist majority on the Court has slowly but surely circumscribed the ability of States to execute persons with mental disabilities of various kinds. In Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986), the Court held that the Eighth Amendment barred the execution of insane persons; however, it fell short of requiring that the States hold a full evidentiary hearing to determine their sanity. In Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302 (1989), the Court reversed the death sentence meted out to a mentally retarded convicted murderer but at the same time it refused to rule that the execution of such persons per se violated the Eighth Amendment. That holding was, however, reversed in Atkins v. Virginia (June 20, 2002), No. 00-8452, where the Court found that a national consensus existed against the execution of the mentally retarded. The Court has only partially ruled on some peripheral areas, such as the constitutionality of state laws calling for the administration of antipsychotic drugs to death row inmates to render them mentally competent for their execution, and the admissability of evidence of intoxication as a factor mitigating the imposition of the death penalty.
The Eighth Amendment provides that "excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted." Before the Furman decision, the Court had applied the Eighth Amendment in death penalty cases only to ban particularly savage and barbaric forms of punishment such as drawing and quartering convicted criminals, putting them on the rack or torturing them. In dicta in Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86 (1958) (a non-capital ...