Lyn Entzeroth


This article examines these issues in the context of an important and emerging constitutional challenge to the death penalty: whether the death penalty can be imposed on capital defendants who suffer from severe mental illness at the time of the commission of their crimes...At the outset, this article briefly sets out the problem of mental illness among capital offenders and the death row population and reviews the characteristics of severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, that plague some individuals who are sentenced to die. In order to contextualize the severely mentally ill offender’s place within the United States’ modern death penalty structure, the article traces the constitutional development of our current capital punishment systems. This discussion considers how the Court crafts and justifies death penalty exemptions, examines how state legislative action plays a pivotal role in the development of these exemptions, and contemplates how an exemption for the severely mentally ill fits within this line of death penalty jurisprudence. Because of the importance of state actions in the evolution of death penalty exemptions, the article presents current state legislative and judicial action with respect to a death penalty exemption for the severely mentally ill. The article then confronts the constitutional challenges in the development of an Eighth Amendment exemption for the severely mentally ill offender and considers ways that might prove effective in creating an exemption, as well as the limitations of this process and the dilemmas it creates.

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