PA Court: Executions OK For Many Mentally Ill Defendants


Any criminal defendant with mental impairments, short of being legally defined as “mentally retarded,” can be executed for capital offenses, says a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling reported by The Legal Intelligencer. A dissenting justice accused the majority of being “draconian” and warned the ruling might lead to putting mentally retarded people to death. The justices in the 5-2 decision ruled that those seeking waiver of the death penalty must show that defendant’s mental illness began before his or her 18th birthday — a requirement Justice Max Baer labeled as problematic for certain defendants. “To say this is troubling is an understatement,” Baer wrote. “Many defendants [] were not afforded the specialized expert attention, IQ tests, or adaptive assessments memorialized in school records, required by the majority to corroborate their claim of mental retardation.”

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2002 decision that allowed states to define “mental retardation.” A previous Pennsylvania high court ruling, he wrote, requires a defendant to prove three things — that his or her IQ is roughly at or below 70, that he or she has limited adaptive behavior skills and that he or she has had such problems since before his or her 18th birthday.

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