Upset that people with schizophrenia and other mental disorders have been put to death after murder convictions, lawmakers in a handful of states want to bar the use of the death penalty for people with a serious mental illness.
People accused of murder who are found not guilty by reason of insanity can serve time in a mental hospital and avoid the death penalty. But many states have a narrow legal definition of insanity — not knowing what one did was wrong. And critics say that leaves many people with mental disorders to be found guilty of capital crimes and sentenced to death.
Some of them have already been put to death. Ohio executed a man with schizophrenia in 2001. Arkansas did the same in 2004. A schizophrenic Texas man spent two decades on death row after his insanity plea was rejected, leading to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that inmates must have a rational understanding of their punishment before they can be executed. (The state continued to seek his execution until a lower court halted it in 2014.)
Legislators in at least seven states — Arkansas, Indiana, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia — have proposed bills this year to prohibit the death penalty for people who suffered from a serious mental illness at the time of their crime. Most of the proposals name specific disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, delusional disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.