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54 Cath. U. L. Rev. 1169 (2004-2005)
Mentally Ill Prisoners on Death Row: Unsolved Puzzles for Courts and Legislatures

handle is hein.journals/cathu54 and id is 1179 raw text is: MENTALLY ILL PRISONERS ON DEATH ROW:
Richard J. Bonnie'
The circumstances under which a defendant's mental illness or other
mental disability at the time of the offense should preclude a death
sentence are considered by other participants in the Symposium. In this
paper, I want to focus on the problems relating to mental illness or other
mental disabilities that arise after sentencing, where the underlying
values at stake are the dignity of the condemned prisoner and the
integrity of the law. I will address three conceptually independent
(although often clinically overlapping) grounds for precluding or
postponing execution of mentally ill prisoners on death row:
1. Prisoners whose impaired understanding of the nature and purpose
of the punishment may render them incompetent for execution under
Ford v. Wainwright' (I will refer to this category of prisoners as Ford
2. Prisoners whose mental illness impairs their ability to assist their
lawyers or otherwise to participate meaningfully in post-conviction
proceedings (I will refer to this category of prisoners as unable to assist
3. Prisoners who do not want to initiate or who want to terminate
post-conviction proceedings challenging the validity of the conviction or
death sentence (I will refer to this category of prisoners as volunteers
for execution).
As I discuss each of these grounds for precluding execution, I will
present the pertinent text of a proposal recently approved by the
American Bar Association's (ABA) Task Force on Mental Disability
and the Death Penalty on which I am serving.2 Parallel proposals are
also being considered by various mental health advocacy groups and
' John S. Battle Professor of Law and Director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and
Public Policy, University of Virginia.
1. 477 U.S. 399, 409 (1986).
2. The Task Force was established under the auspices of the American Bar
Association (ABA) Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities. The full text of the
Task Force's proposal is set forth in this issue. See Recommendations of the American Bar
Association Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities Task Force on Mental
Disability and the Death Penalty, 54 CATH. U. L. REV. 1115 (2005) [hereinafter Task Force


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