Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Are you sane enough to be executed?

New York: The US Supreme Court has let stand a ruling by a federal appeals court in February that officials in the state of Arkansas had the right to force a convicted murderer to take drug treatment to make him sane enough to be executed.

[If the convicted prisoners was insane at his trial he should have been found not guilty due to mental illness. If he had been mistreated into insanity whilst in prison say, by being held in solitary confinement whilst waiting to be executed, then he should be treated for his mental illness and now not executed. Those that seek to get revenge, can't have their cake and eat it too, and they ought to have taken that into account if they wanted him executed. ]

In 1986 the Supreme Court proclaimed it illegal to execute people unless they understood that they were being put to death and why.

An appeals court based in St Louis ruled in February this year that the constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment would not be violated if the authorities forcibly gave antipsychotic medication to the inmate [prisoner], Charles Laverne Singleton. It was this decision that was upheld by the Supreme Court last week.

The fate of Singleton has veered back and forth since he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1979.

He became seriously mentally ill in 1987 and in October 2001, a panel of the 8th circuit put a permanent stay on his execution, ruling that he be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

[He became seriously mentally ill in 1987 after being in prison? Or because that was the state he was in when he had committed the original crime? If it were the later then he should have been found not guilty of the crime. If it was the former and he became seriously mentally ill in prison, then, was it because he was solitary confined?]

The state appealed, and the St Louis court reversed that ruling in February, saying "that it was acceptable to give Singleton the drug treatment to make him sane enough to be executed ( BMJ 2003;326: 415[Free Full Text])."

Six of the 11 judges on the St Louis based panel said that because Singleton wanted to receive medication for his mental illness and the state had an interest in having sane prisoners, the fact that the drugs had the "side effect" of making him sane should not affect his fate. [?]

The four dissenting judges said it would be wrong to execute Singleton, who becomes paranoid and delusional when not receiving medication, and is sometimes still psychotic even when taking medication. One of the judges abstained.

[They punished the man to death twice!! Nothing to do with his last meal either? The idea that they screwed up on the prisoners sentence (of the death penalty), by mistreating him until he received his sentence, was bad enough. But he should have gained some, mercy or relief (because of mistreatment, prior the worst punishment of the death penalty), but in this case no matter how his sentence was screwed they were going to mistreat him! Very cruel and not unusual in the land of the USA and (solitarty confinement torture practices) and punishment in the 21 century!!!]

Singleton's defence had argued that the Arkansas inmate was in a precarious situation: taking antipsychotic medication was in his interes but not if the resulting sanity put him on the path to the death chamber.

The Supreme Court last week rejected arguments by Singleton's lawyers that giving him the drugs was not medically useful to him, as the only purpose would be to facilitate the ending of his life.

The Supreme Court ruled in a pair of cases in 1986 that executing insane inmates was prohibited by the eighth amendment's edict against cruel and unusual punishment. But until the Singleton case, no appeals court or the Supreme Court had ruled on whether prisoners may be forced to take medication in order to be made sane enough to be executed.

Singleton was convicted of stabbing grocer Mary Lou York to death in a 1979 robbery. Before dying, she identified him as her attacker. His mental health began to deteriorate in 1987; he said he believed his prison cell was possessed by demons and that the authorities had planted a device in his ear. He insisted that his victim, whom he had known at the time of the murder, was still alive.

["A" typical statement made by those tortured in solitary confinement.]

The Supreme Court has halted executions of inmates [prisoners] with severe learning difficulties but has refused such protection for mentally ill inmates [prisoners.]

Rapid Response published: Sanity is Not a Medical Issue 17 October 2003 John M. Williams, President Markanix Co., PO Box 2697, Redwood City, CA 94064

The problem here is that sanity is a legal term, not a medical one, and so its meaning is independent of medical considerations. Black's Law Dictionary defines sanity as the "opposite of insanity", which latter is defined as a "condition which renders the individual unfit to enjoy liberty of action because of the unreliability of his behavior . . . [and] negates the individual's legal responsibility or capacity."

[Sanity is also a medical term the problem here is that the prisoner prior his execution was 'mistreated' in 'solitary confinement' like thousands of other prisoners and because of his mistreatment was sent mentally ill prior his execution.]

Reading this article, it worries me that execution should be withheld because it is "cruel and unusual": How is hanging, electrocuting, or injecting one person more cruel and unusual than doing exactly the same thing to another? This makes me suspect that the lawyers arguing these cases are incompetent to read the law, so the issue is not a medical one, but a legal one, in more than one way!

[Execution is state murder and illegal because murder is a lethal meme - so the issue is not a legal one but a medical and a moral one.]

I think there are two issues of insanity involved: First, was the person insane at the time of the crime, but sane during the trial? If so, then a guilty verdict should render them liable for the same punishment as anyone else in those circumstances.

[I think that there are three issues of insanity the other is how the state mistreated the prisoner whilst in custody.]

Perhaps they would be condemned to prison or death, perhaps not; whatever the law says about treatment of someone involuntarily killing or injuring another, or committing treason or whatever. If they were insane, the crime must be considered involuntary, I think.

Second, whether sane or not at the time of the crime, were they sane during the trial? Here, I think the real issue is whether someone insane, as defined above, can defend his or her innocence in court.

If they can not present testimony in their own behalf, or guide a lawyer rationally in a defense strategy, they should not be tried. It is unclear what "insane" could mean applied to someone already in prison and awaiting execution, because such persons (consistent with the 5th and 14th Amendments of the U. S. Constitution) have no liberty of action anyway.

But there is a medical involvement: If withholding a drug (e. g., amphetamine) can make someone temporarily insane behave sanely, should a prison withhold such a drug? I would say, yes: There is no obligation to keep insane people insane by drugging them.

Now consider whether giving a drug which can make someone behave sanely should be obligatory? I think not. Why should this be done, unless at the request of the prisoner and with medical approval? But, the issue in this article seems to be, Should the prison authorities be allowed forcefully to administer such a drug? I would say, no: Such persons should have no power to judge the sane from the insane.

Sanity should be a matter of a jury trial, as required by the 5th and 14th Amendments, because adjudication of insanity means a specific, new legal denial of freedom, over and above that imposed by imprisonment.

Prisoners should not be put at risk of having their sanity judged without a jury trial. Letting a prison guard, or a supervisor of them, decide when prisoners should go free, or go insane, or go sane, is not consistent with justice, which should be administered only at a trial. In particular, suppose a drug is administered: Who is to judge whether or not the prisoner now is "sane"? I say only a jury of peers of that prisoner.

But, regardless, whether a condemned prisoner can be considered sane or not seems irrelevant to the question of whether they should be executed. The punishment for a crime should be determined by a trial before judge and jury, not by evaluation of behavior by doctors or police in a state institution such as a prison.

Competing interests: None declared

[A condemned prisoner or not should be considered. How about at least treating a condemned prisoner, (sentenced with the maximum penalty of death) with some form of dignity, at least before they kill them? Some last rights?
If a person doesn't have the right to mistreat others, then neither does the state. If a person doesn't have the right to kill others, then neither does the state. How, can not leading by any form of example, prevent crime? ]

Competing interests: None declared

By Scott Gottlieb & edited by Gregory Kable, posted 22 Oct 03

Related Death Penalty Links:

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