Mental Incapacity and Criminal Justice

Texas is preparing its first execution since Clayton Lockett’s execution in Oklahoma. Texas Department of Criminal Justice set the execution of Robert Campbell. The execution was set for the week of May 12. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed this execution. The Court stayed the execution to allow him to challenge his death sentence because of his mental incapacity.

Due process prevents people from being tried for crimes if they lack mental capacity. It does not matter if the person was sane at the time of the crime. Nonetheless, a person on trial must be competent. Competence requires two things. The person must be able to aid his lawyer in his defense. Also, the person must rationally and factually understand the proceedings against him.

That is not enough in capital cases. Mental incapacity also factors into punishment. The Supreme Court of the United States has put limits upon the death penalty in cases involving mental incapacity. A State cannot execute the incapacitated. Prosecutors have to turn over information they have related to a person’s I.Q.

It is the duty of an attorney to raise mental incapacity before trial. If a person cannot help an attorney or does not understand the case against them, it would be cruel to punish them. The unique aspect of death penalty cases is a person may not have the capacity to be executed, but could stand trial.

Not every person will have the ability that Campbell has had to challenge his conviction. Certainly, Clayton Lockett would have benefitted from a stay for this reason. It is assured that Campbell will not limit his appeal to mental incapacity alone.

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