No New Competency Standard In Court Insanity Case


Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision overturning the death sentence of a delusional Texas murderer amplified the court’s ban against execution of the insane, says the New York Times. In a rebuke to lower courts, the justices ruled 5 to 4 that the defendant, Scott Louis Panetti, had not been shown to have sufficient understanding of why he was to be put to death for gunning down his wife's parents in 1992. The court declined to lay out a new standard for competency in capital cases, but it found that existing protections had not been afforded. Justice Anthony Kennedy provided the swing vote, joined by John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen G. Breyer.

Leading dissenter Justice Clarence Thomas called the ruling “a half-baked holding that leaves the details of the insanity standard for the district court to work out.” He was joined Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Gregory Wiercioch of the Texas Defender Service hailed the decision as “reaffirming and strengthening the grounds for proving incompetence.” Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz said, that the ruling “will invite abuse from capital murderers, subject the courts to numerous false claims of incompetency and even further delay justice for the victims' families.”


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