This Note takes the position that an exemption for severely mentally ill offenders from the death penalty is not only warranted, but also long overdue. Part I will use the Supreme Court’s own opinion in Hall v. Florida to make the argument that the Supreme Court has theoretically carved out such an exemption in its prior opinions, which it must now follow. This Note heavily relies on Hall for two reasons. First, in Hall, the Court was addressing intellectually disabled offenders and much of its opinion can be applied to severely mentally ill offenders. Second, the Court delivered the Hall opinion in 2014. It is the most recent death penalty opinion, and its expressed ideas of punishment are consistent with the Court’s earlier exemption-creating death penalty cases, which are used throughout the opinion and its antecedents.
Part II will concentrate on the absence of the three principle rationales justifying punishment when executing an intellectually disabled offender, and how such an absence equally exists when a severely mentally ill offender is executed. Further, this Note will use the Hall opinion to demonstrate how the Supreme Court deferred to mental health professionals and the medical community when reaffirming the exemption for intellectually disabled offenders and how such deference is warranted for creating an exemption for severely mentally ill offenders.
Part III will focus on the Supreme Court’s “evolving standard of human decency” test that it has created specifically for death penalty cases. This Note will provide two examples – one domestic and one international – as evidence demonstrating society’s overall reluctance on executing offenders with mental illness. These examples show that executions of the severely mentally ill violate the “evolving standards of human decency” test, demanding that the Supreme Court create an exemption for the severely mentally ill from the death penalty on the grounds of the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause.
Part IV will revisit the Supreme Court’s opinions in both Ford v. Wainwright and Hall, taking an in depth look at the state’s procedures used in those cases and the reasons for holding that such procedures were unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has left the task of developing execution and sentencing procedures to the states and, using both Ford and Hall, this Note will provide some guidance on the minimum procedures that the Supreme Court should require for states in assessing severe mental illness, satisfying the Eighth Amendment.