Report: Mental Illness and the Death Penalty

There are significant gaps in the legal protection accorded severely mentally ill defendants charged with or convicted of a capital crime. Most notably, this country still permits the execution of the severely mentally ill. The problem is not a small one. A leading mental health group, Mental Health America, estimates that five to ten percent of all death row inmates suffer from a severe mental illness.

This overview discusses the intersection of the law and the challenges faced by mentally ill capital defendants at every stage from trial through appeals and execution. It provides examples of some of the more famous cases of the execution of the mentally ill. Lastly, it describes current legislative efforts to exempt those who suffer from a serious mental illness from execution and the importance of such efforts.

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