Supreme Court Says Executing a Man with Dementia May Violate the Constitution


The U.S. Supreme Court has devoted considerable time in recent years to questions about the death penalty for people with mental illnesses and severe learning disabilities.

A ruling in February clarified the circumstances in which an inmate with a mental disability can be executed.

The court decided an execution can take place if the accused does not remember committing the crime. However, the government cannot execute a prisoner if he is unable to understand why he has been “singled out” to die.

In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled if somebody with dementia is unable to understand the reason for his or her execution, the death sentence is unconstitutional.

Concerns over executing a man with dementia

Executing a man with dementia may be unconstitutional

The decision was handed down as the court blocked the execution of 68-year-old Vernon Madison.

Alabama imposed the death penalty on Madison. Justice Clarence Thomas issued a temporary stay just 30 minutes before Madison was due to die. The court is considering an appeal from the defense team.

Madison spent more than three decades in solitary confinement awaiting execution on death row. He shot and killed a police officer who responded to a dispute involving Madison and his girlfriend in 1985.

Since a judge sentenced him to death, Madison suffered numerous strokes. He suffers from vascular dementia. His attorney said he has no memory of the crime. The Supreme Court took on the case to consider whether executing Madison violates the ban on “cruel and unusual punishment” set out in the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

As well as the dementia issue which is pertinent to mental illness, Madison’s lawyers argued the death sentence is unfair. They point out an Alabama law enacted in 2017 no longer allows judicial override. A judge imposed the death penalty in 1994 after a jury recommended life in prison.

The use of the death penalty in Arizona has stalled. The Death Penalty Information Center pointed out the state executed Robert Moorman in 2012. His attorneys argued he was mentally disabled and suffered mental abuse for years. Prosecutors claimed Moorman’s mental capacity when he committed murder was slightly above the legal threshold for mental impairment. Moorman killed and dismembered his adoptive mother.

If you or a family member has been charged with a crime in Arizona, please contact the Garcia Law Firm at (602) 340-1999.

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