Ethics refers to a branch of philosophy that deals with the categorization of human behavior into what is morally wrong or right. Various codes of ethics govern different societal fields and disciplines such as ethics in health, education and even in the business sector. However, when it comes to the ethics that governs the correction of the mentally ill, there is a lot of dilemma behind it. Mental illnesses affect the victim’s behavior, mood, and way of thinking. It, therefore, becomes a dilemma and challenge to decide on what punishment is appropriate for a mentally ill person. Capital punishment refers to the legal execution of a crime perpetrator as punishment for his or her crimes.
In many countries, the question of what punishment a mentally ill person should receive remains unanswered as many crimes go unreported with the assumption that the perpetrator of the crime was not in his/her right mind. Government judicial institution tries to maintain a balance between protecting and keeping the public safe and also ensuring that rights of the mentally challenged are met by helping them get the necessary health care and treatment.
In most countries such as the USA, mentally challenged incarceration and then hospitalization policies have been adopted where the victim first serves a jail term and later hospitalized. The reverse holds true in other countries where the victim first receives treatment and then hospitalized. Some of the crimes that these mentally ill people are likely to commit include physical assault, robbery, sexual assaults or given murder.
On June 20th, 2002, the USA Supreme Court gave a landmark ruling that placed a ban on execution of people with mental illnesses. In previous times, execution of mentally ill people has led to the death of many people despite defenses that they were mentally challenges. The ruling did not, however, clarify what was meant by the terms, “mentally challenged/ill” which was left to the hands of the individual states.
Many states, therefore, device their own rules and conditions that determine what type of punishment is given depending on the level of mental illness of the patient. Despite this, a mental health group in America dubbed Mental Health America in one of their reports stated that five of every ten death row inmates have a mental condition. The capital punishment trials in the USA since 1976 have been divided into two faces: the first phase seeks to know if the victim is guilty or not while the second phase which is the penalty where the judge decides what form of punishment to give: the death penalty or a life sentence.
When it comes to the capital trials of mentally ill persons, a lot should be taken into account such as police interrogations, competency to stand trial, insanity, intention to commit the crime among others. Most of the mentally ill victims are likely to give false statements and cave in to pressure from the police or the ones interrogating them. Impulsivity and lack of clear judgments are just but the few effects that mental illnesses can cause to a victim.
To add to this, these victims also lack competency to stand trials, in the USA
it is demanded that a defendant should be competently fit to stand trials. This interprets that the perpetrator of the crime must very well understand the proceedings of the court as well as be able to consult his/her attorney. Competency tests are often administered in courts. However, the tests are relatively easy and it does not necessarily mean that a mentally ill person will be is incompetent to take this test.
Insanity is another issue that is taken into account during capital trials; there are several tests that are administered to the defendants these include tests such as the M-Naghten test which is the most common. It seeks to obtain clarification about whether the defendant knew what he/she was doing at the time of the crime or if she and if it was a result of a mental disorder or he knew if what they were doing was wrong or right. The American Law Institute is fairly common and used to test for insanity. Despite this, most juries still refuse to conform to the defense that a defendant is guilty but mentally challenged.
Clark v. Arizona, 548 U.S. 735 (2006), the United States Supreme Court held that such defendants do not have a constitutional right to present evidence that they suffered from a serious mental illness to show that they did not have the specific intent to kill. In a murder trial, it is required that there be enough evidence to prove that the defendant had the intention to kill or murder.
With mentally ill persons, it is hard to prove they have this intention to kill. Mitigation is also a factor that is applied when it comes to trials of mentally ill persons. Courts often require for mitigation evidence as a defense for executions or life penalties. Evidence of troubled childhoods or sexual abuse in one’s childhood that might have been the contributor to the mental issues may be used.
Sell v. United States539 U.S. 166 (2003); the Supreme Court set clear rules about when a defendant who is not dangerous to himself or to others may be forcibly medicated against his or her will for the purpose of rendering the defendant competent to stand trial. The USA Supreme Court declared that it is unconstitutional to execute a mentally challenged person at the period of the case, it remains unclear if a person may be executed if he or she was mentally challenged at the time of crime or if the state can forcibly medicate a mentally ill person so as to make them fit or competent for the execution.
Even with these policies many mentally ill persons continue to face death sentences as they are labeled competent for death trial. Still treatment of these persons would still be insufficient as the safety of the public has to be guaranteed. The bottom line of this is, capital punishment for mentally ill persons is wrong as most of their judgment is impaired, they are also prone to victimization by the police, and other people who might put the blame on them because of their mental conditions are incapability to think straight. However, justice has to
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