Nowadays, capital punishment is a burning issue that limits the scope of humanitarian concern in the global context. Within the scenario of crime and punishment, law-making bodies and law enforcement agencies neglect the problems faced by mentally ill persons who happen to commit crime without any motive, but due to the influence of illness. One can see that death penalty cannot solve the issues faced by mentally ill persons who are accused of crimes, but proper treatment can help them to be productive citizens in the society. Thesis statement: Mentally ill people should be exempted from death penalty because they lack reasoning, are entitled to the right to equal protection, not responsible for their deeds, can easily be subdued by police pressure, are not aware of the consequences of their deeds, and have specific individual rights to be protected, and apt measures like proper treatment and rehabilitation with humanitarian consideration can help them to keep themselves away from further problems.
This section is broadly divided into: Arguments, Counter-arguments, and Solutions.
Mentally ill persons are not aware of the genuineness of the offense committed
The most important argument in favor of the offenders who are facing mental problems is that they are not aware of genuineness of the offense committed. To be specific, they do not have any specific control on their deeds. If a person commits a crime with certain reason or to fulfill his/her motive, one can argue that he/she is to be punished. When crime and penalty is superimposed into the context of the crimes committed by the individuals who are facing mental problems, one can see that punishment is a vain effort. The negative side of death penalty for the offenders who are facing mental problems is that this sort of punishment cannot create any change in the society. When an offender who is facing mental problems is punished, the court is punishing a person who is suffering from severe illness which can be cured by proper treatment. Liptak (2013) states that, “The Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to put mentally incompetent defendants on trial because they cannot understand the proceedings against them or assist their lawyers” (p. A12). When a person is not aware of the nature of crime committed by him/her, the whole process of law enforcement is becoming just a pre-rehearsed drama. Besides, an offender who is facing mental problems may not have proper capacity to take decisions on his/her own. But the judges will not consider this fact because they take decisions based on evidence. So, those who are not aware of the genuineness of the offense committed must not be punished.
Death penalty for the offenders who are facing mental problems violates the ‘Right to Equal Protection’
One can see that an offender who is facing mental problems cannot expect access to equal protection. To be specific, an offender who is facing mental problems is helpless in front of the court. He/she cannot prove that he/she cannot act like sane individuals and the judicial machinery does not give any importance to the problems faced by him/her. When an offender who is facing mental problems is forced to undergo death penalty, the basic purpose or aim of the ‘Right to Equal Protection’ is violated. Rabe (2001) states that, “The equal protection clause constitutionalizes the norm of equality” (p.39). On the other side, his/her basic right is to be protected, but the mainstream society neglects this issue. Still, a mentally ill individual’s helplessness is exploited to take irrational decisions based on irrational claims. In short, the ‘Right to Equal Protection’ is never used to protect an offender who is facing mental problems in general. So, the crime committed by person who is facing mental problems is projected and the reason behind the crime is ignored by the authorities.
Mentally ill persons are not guilty for their deeds
Those who are mentally ill have no control on their body and mind. To be specific, they cannot act like normal people because they do not have the capacity to think rationally like others. When normal people judge them on their actions based on their deeds, the difference between insanity and sanity is totally ignored. So, the society must try to realize that mentally ill individuals are patients to be treated, not criminals to be punished. From a different angle of view, they are not guilty for their wrong deeds. Cohen (2011) states that, “Defendants with a guilty but mentally ill verdict are typically remanded to a psychiatric facility or provided with psychiatric treatment while in prison” (p.449). If one is not able to think and act like normal people, how can he/she be punishable? Neglecting this fact, the law enforcement groups or agencies try to extract information from a mentally ill person. On the other side, judgment is based on false information collected from a mentally ill person. So, mentally ill persons are not responsible for their wrong deeds and must be exempted from death penalty.
Mentally ill individuals easily subdue to police pressure and may be forced to provide false confessions
As mentally ill individuals cannot think rationally, they become easy preys to police pressure. For instance, the authorities consider them like normal individuals and ask tricky questions. When a person is under pressure due to illness, one can expect false confessions. Even normal people subdue to police pressure and give false confessions to escape from continuous questioning and other methods of torturing. Within this scenario, one cannot expect a mentally ill individual to think rationally and answer all the questions asked by the investigators. Leo (2009) opines that, “The mentally ill possess any number of psychiatric symptoms that make them more likely to agree with, suggest, or confabulate false and misleading information to detectives during interrogations” (p.234). Besides, they cannot evaluate their deeds because their deeds are not based upon rational thinking. When they are questioned repeatedly, they may answer differently. Again, this information may lead him/her to death penalty. So, mentally ill individuals easily subdue to pressure, may give false confessions and this false information must not be used against them.
Mentally ill people are not aware of the aftereffects of their deeds
Almost all human deeds are based upon rational thinking. If an individual is aware of the aftereffects of his/her deeds, that individual will not try to commit any crime. When an individual commits crime, he/she will try to cover up the crime by destroying evidences. But mentally ill people rarely try to destroy evidences because they are not aware of the aftereffects of their deeds. Blumenthal (2006) states that, “The ruling appears to be limited to those without the capacity to understand that they are about to be put to death and why” (para.4). To be specific, normal people rarely commit crime because they know that their wrong deeds can lead them towards prison. When one is not aware of the seriousness of the crime committed, one will not try to escape from the authorities. So, the society must realize that the crimes committed by a mentally ill person must be evaluated from a different angle because mentally ill persons are not aware of the aftereffects of their deeds.
Death penalty for offenders who are facing mental problems violates individual rights
Each and every individual-disregarding all the differences-have certain individual rights. Almost all the modern societies allow individuals to enjoy those rights because it leads to cohesion in the society. When an individual is not allowed to enjoy his/her individual rights, there is high possibility for the violation of laws in the society. When individual rights are superimposed into the context of law and order, one can see that some are aware of their personal rights. When the crime committed by mentally ill individuals are considered as similar to the crimes committed by normal people, their personal rights are violated. Jubilut (2007) states that, “In 2002, the United States Supreme Court in Atkins v. Virginia exempted people who suffer from mental retardation from the death penalty” (p. 354). So, death penalty violates their personal rights and liberty. Besides, death penalty never allows them to have a chance to live like others. So, one need to realize that offenders who are facing mental problems have certain personal rights and death penalty is totally against the same.
The offenders who are facing mental problems are not mentally retarded, so they must undergo death penalty
The most important argument in favor of death penalty for the offenders who are facing mental problems is that they are not mentally retarded and must undergo death penalty. One can argue that mental illness is not a constant status like mental retardation, and they are responsible for their wrong deeds or crimes. Arrigo (2002) states that, “On the one hand, involuntary hospitalization for mentally ill persons diagnosed as dangerous or otherwise disabled is encouraged” (p.3). But most of the individuals who are facing mental problems do not have any capacity to make decisions on their own. When they are angry and out of self-control, they are forced to commit crimes.
Death penalty for the offenders who are facing mental problems can limit the number of crimes
Those who are in favor of death penalty for mentally ill offenders argue that death penalty can limit number of crimes in the society. Basically, death penalty may create fear in the minds of criminals. But death penalty for the offenders who are facing mental problems is an inhuman act because it is like punishing a person based on his/her illness. Once can see that illness needs treatment, not punishment.
No consideration to criminals, whether mentally ill, retarded, or sane
Another argument in favor of death penalty for the offenders who are facing mental problems is that all are equal before law and there must be no consideration for mentally ill people. When accused persons who are facing mental problems are considered as equal to retards and normal people, justice becomes injustice. Even death penalty is considered as injustice and inhuman practice in the modern world. When the persons who are facing mental problems are evaluated on their deeds, one must try to think from their angle of view. This will help to realize that special consideration must be given to them because they deserve the same.
There is no single and clear cut solution to solve all the problems faced by individuals with mental illness. So, the first step must be proper treatment for the illness. Videbeck (2011) opines that, “However, if offenders with mental illness had obtained needed treatment, some might not have engaged in criminal activity” (p.72). Within this scenario, the law enforcement agencies must provide importance to proper treatment for the illness. One can see that diagnosis of illness and proper treatment can help most of them to have easy recovery. Some of them individuals may be violent and imminent threat to others. There must be special arrangements to treat this type of individuals. On the other side, general hospitals (under government ownership) can be used to treat individuals with less serious mental problems.
One can see that rehabilitation is an important step that can help these people to have proper socialization with others. If rehabilitation is not properly done, illness may return and the problem will become severe. So, the authorities can help these people by attracting them towards job oriented education. Besides, their relatives must attend awareness programs on mental illness. This will help their relatives to deal with those individuals with ease. These people (those who underwent proper treatment) must be allowed to attend social gatherings and family celebrations/ceremonies. This will help them to feel secure within their private and public circles.
Humanitarian consideration (empathy, not sympathy)
Most of the people show sympathy towards mentally ill people. This attitude is totally wrong because sympathy cannot help a mentally ill person. On the other side, empathetic attitude can help them because the same have a soothing effect. So, humanitarian consideration towards mentally ill people can solve almost all the problems faced by them in the mainstream society.
Summing up, the society must realize that mentally ill people lack reasoning and they have certain rights like others. Besides, they are not responsible for their wrong deeds and can be easily subdued by external pressure. As they are not aware of the consequences of their deeds and have certain rights to be protected, death penalty is unreasonable and inhuman. On the other side, proper medication and rehabilitation facilities can help mentally ill persons to be safe from further problems. One can see that mentally ill people are not with criminal instinct, but certain problems limit their reasoning capacity and the same leads them to wrong deeds. In short, the civil society, law enforcing agencies, judiciary, doctors, and others can help mentally ill people to keep themselves within the core of mainstream society. So, the inhuman practice of punishing an individual for his/her illness, not for criminal instinct, must be avoided because death penalty is not medical treatment for serious illnesses like mental illness.
Arrigo, B.A. (2002). Punishing the Mentally Ill: A Critical Analysis of Law and Psychiatry. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Blumenthal, R. (2006, Nov. 23). A Growing Plea for Mercy for the Mentally Ill on Death Row. The New York Times, para.4.
Cohen, L.J. (2011). The Handy Psychology Answer Book. Canton, MI: Visible Ink Press.
Jubilut, L.L. (2007). Death Penalty and Mental Illness: The Challenge of Reconciling Human Rights, Criminal Law, and Psychiatric Standards. Seattle Journal for Social Justice, 6, 353-390.
Liptak, A. (2013, Jan. 9). Justices Rule on Staying Death Row Challenges. The New York Times, p.A12.
Leo, R.A. (2009). POLICE INTERROGATION AND AMERICAN JUSTICE. US: Harvard University Press.
Rabe, J. (2001). Equality, Affirmative Action and Justice. Norderstedt, Germany: BoD – Books on Demand.
Videbeck, S.L. (2011). Psychiatric-mental Health Nursing. US: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.