The death penalty claims the lives of innocent people, including the mentally ill. Over 90 million American citizens want answers as to why the United States joins countries like Iraq, Iran, North Korea, China, and Saudi Arabia for carrying out the most executions in the world.
Most people are not aware of the facts pertaining to the death penalty or capital punishment. According to Amnesty Internationa, the death penalty does not work.
The global movement of people fighting injustice and promoting human rights provides this proclamation.
“The death penalty, both in the U.S. and around the world, is discriminatory and is used disproportionately against the poor, minorities, and members of racial, ethnic, and religious communities. Since humans are fallible, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated.”
More than 130 people have been released from death rows across the U.S. since 1973 because evidence was found showing they were wrongful convicted. In 2003, ten defendants were released from death row because they were wrongfully convicted, as well.
Innocent defendants are wrongfully convicted for a number of reasons. They may have inadequate representation, or are a victim of racial prejudice. They may also be victims of perjured testimony, mistaken eyewitness testimony, or prosecutorial and police misconduct. Mitigating evidence may have been suppressed or misinterpreted in court, or a jailhouse snitch testimony may have resulted in a death penalty conviction.
In 2000, Governor George Ryan of Illinois said this about the death penalty system when he declared a moratorium on executions in his state, after the 13th Illinois death row inmate was released from prison due to a wrongful conviction.
“I cannot support a system which, in its administration, has proven so fraught with error and has come so close to the ultimate nightmare, the state’s taking of innocent life. Until I can be sure that everyone sentenced to death in Illinois is truly guilty, until I can be sure with moral certainty that no innocent man or woman is facing a lethal injection, no one will meet that fate.”
The death penalty and execution of people with a mental illness or diagnosed as insane is prohibited by international law. Almost every country in the world prohibits the death penalty and execution of people suffering with mental illness.
Since 1977, one out of 10 people who have been executed in the U.S. is mentally ill, according to Amnesty International and the National Association on Mental Illness. Many defendants diagnosed with a mental illness are unable to involve themselves in their trials in a meaningful way. They appear cold, indifferent, unengaged, and unfeeling before a jury. Some defendants have been medicated by force to make them appear competent to be executed.
Executing someone who is found to be “insane” — that is, someone who does not understand the reason for, or the reality of, his or her punishment — violates the U.S. Constitution (Ford v. Wainwright, 1986). This decision allowed each state to decide what constitutes sanity. Constitutional protections for individuals with other forms of mental illness are minimal.
In the U.S., dozens of prisoners have been executed despite suffering from serious mental illness. The National Association of Mental Health estimates 5 to 10 percent of people on death row have serious mental illness. Nonetheless, individuals diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, or other forms of mental illness, receive the death penalty and are eventually executed.
In the last few years, the use of the death penalty in the United States has gradually declined. The death penalty is still actively used in a few states. However, despite the reduction, the failures and flaws of the death penalty are more noticeable, and many consider capital punishment inhumane.