Despite constitutional protections, the death penalty is still sometimes applied to people with mental illness or mental disabilities, usually because they are unable to meet the burden of proof, or because of technicalities in state laws that implement the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ford v. Wainwright (1986) declared that it is unconstitutional to execute an individual with mental illness who is unable to comprehend the implications of or reason for their execution. If they recover from their illness, they can be executed. This decision was reaffirmed in Panetti v. Quarterman (2007), a case in which NAMI submitted an Amicus Curiae brief urging the court to prevent the execution.
Atkins v. Virginia (2002) established that it is illegal to execute an individual with a mental disability with significant deficits in intellectual and adaptive functioning. The burden of proof is generally upon the defense to provide evidence that the defendant meets the criteria for disability established by the case.
Where NAMI Stands
NAMI opposes the execution of persons with serious mental illness or those who are mentally disabled.
Generally, NAMI opposes the execution of individuals who when committing the crime had serious mental illness or mental disability. This mental disability or illness must be severe enough that they have a significantly impaired ability to appreciate the consequences or wrongfulness of their actions, exercise rational judgment or control their conduct in conformance with the law. Substance abuse disorders do not meet this criteria.
What is NAMI Doing
NAMI speaks out publically in the media on behalf of some individuals. Our Director of Policy & Legal Affairs, Ron Honberg, has published an opinion piece in the LA times and appeared on radio shows expressing the NAMI belief that mentally ill individuals should not be executed.