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Death Penalty for the Mentally Handicapped

Thesis statement: Individuals with severe mental illness should not be subject to the death penalty. Many countries in the world have continued to execute people with mental and intellectual disabilities, which is a violation of international standards. Countries such USA, Pakistan, and Japan urgently need to reform their criminal justice system because they expose many other individuals at risk. The international standards concerning the mentally handicapped are essential safeguards for vulnerable people in society (LaPrade & Worrall, 2020). The death penalty for the mentally disabled should be opposed, and countries that use capital punishment on vulnerable populations should be fully abolished.

Death penalty and mental health

An individual’s Mental illness makes them less morally culpable, which should be considered to spare an individual’s life. The court revealed that mentally handicapped individuals experience impaired cognitive judgments, sometimes interfering with their decision-making ability. Different bodies, such as the American Bar Association and the American Psychiatric Association, have advocated for the death penalty ban among people with mental health challenges. Mentally ill defendants lack a full understanding of their crime, making them mentally incompetent (Bessler, 2019). It is difficult for such defendants to stand trial or be found guilty because of insanity. Mental illness affects the ability of the defendant to defend themselves because cooperating with the jury’s perceptions and motives may cause danger to society if a negative outcome is experienced, such as a life sentence. In some situations, mentally ill defendants can be coerced to make false confessions because they do not clearly understand individual rights (LaPrade & Worrall, 2020). The court has not offered any protocols to be followed by people with mental illnesses, which enables the discriminatory application of a death sentence.

Mental Health America calls for a moratorium that highlights the use of the death penalty until the criminal justice system fully proves that the process for determining an individual is guilty by pursuing a defendant’s mental health first and ensuring that the basic due process is also applied in capital cases. Death penalties and mental health is an issues that the criminal justice system should investigate prior to the hearing proceedings. A defendant’s mental health matters a lot when executing the death penalty. Mentally incompetent defendants should offer themselves voluntarily for treatment. Forceful treatments to retain competency in a defendant are not allowed to make one competent to stand and face trial in court.

Moral or non-moral issue.

Death penalty among people who are mentally handicapped is a non-moral issue because they cannot make moral judgments that can help them defend themselves in the criminal justice system. It is important to consider the mental health conditions during the various phases of a death penalty case. No single government in the world is allowed to persecute an individual who is not competent. Moreover, the criminal justice system should make it a law to ensure that an individual is thoroughly assessed and a hearing process is done to ensure justice prevails before the death penalty is executed. Failure to execute individual competency in the initial stages of trial makes the execution of a death penalty a moral issue that should be addressed accordingly by different international bodies. A death penalty to a defendant should ensure that all investigations are done before execution is done; otherwise, among the mentally handicapped, it remains a moral issue because a defendant’s decision-making process is easily compromised. Mental health conditions influence the mental state of an individual, especially during the time of the crime, since voluntary or reliable individual statements can compromise personal competence (Bessler, 2019).

Death penalty and non-constitutional

A death penalty for the mentally handicapped inherently goes against the constitutional ban against unusual and cruel punishments and opts to follow a due process guided by the law, and equal protection is guaranteed. A state should not guarantee itself the power to kill human beings through the death penalty, especially among mentally incompetent people (LaPrade & Worrall, 2020). The death penalty is normally uncivilized, unfair, and inequitable in practice, and it should not be given an opportunity in the Constitution. There are various processes like advocacy, legislation, and litigation against the death penalty which work towards preventing executions and capital punishments (Bodnár, 2021).

Death penalties are influenced by external factors such as the amount of money an individual owns and race. The criminal justice system gives unfair judgment to the defendants based on who they are without considering the law and following it to ensure justice prevails. It is more likely that people of color are more likely to be executed because of the stereotypes against them and if the victim is white. It is unconstitutional and unfair because justice is not served, yet the penalty is tough (Bodnár, 2021). Executing an individual without a thorough hearing is unconstitutional, especially in a case involving the death penalty. It is the reason why many defendants are found not to be guilty of their offenses many years later after execution has been done.

Fragmentation of thinking and mental health

Individual thinking is affected, making them incompetent in their activities. When a defendant experiences fragmentation, making clear decisions during trial is difficult. Executing the death penalty is a challenge because the defendant cannot defend themselves appropriately. They will provide evidence when they feel they should and not when it is needed in the court for judgment. Mental health and fragmentation are common because of the connection between the experience and the likely outcome.

Criminal intent or mental fault

All crimes committed under the law are done with the mind’s guilt. Criminal intent is a reason why an individual committed a crime. A mental fault may result from a mental malfunction that affects an individual’s ability to follow court proceedings effectively and give proper instructions to the lawyer. In such a case, the defendant is unfit for trial until one becomes fit or withdraws charges. Criminal intent allows the court to distinguish between an individual who intentionally committed a crime and one who did not mean to commit a crime. Criminal intent and mental fault match intentional and intentional crimes. Intentional behaviors are regarded as harmful, while unintentional crimes come as a mistake in fact or a mistake of law. In many situations, individuals who commit crimes have a criminal intention.

Death penalty or life without parole

The death penalty is more expensive than life without parole. Life without parole is taken as an alternative to a death sentence. In the past, many people assumed that a death sentence was cheap because the government would easily avoid needs such as healthcare and confinement; in the modern day, the issue has been proven wrong regarding capital punishment. The death penalty is expensive because of the trial period and the number of appeals made when an individual’s life is on the line (Haney et al., 2022). More lawyers are needed to hear both sides of the case before execution is given as the final verdict. Life without parole is better because an individual can be released from prison through pardoning, although in most cases, the sentence cannot be suspended, unlike the death penalty, where an individual’s life is taken away.


In conclusion, individuals with severe mental illness should not be subject to the death penalty. Defendants with mental illnesses make them less morally culpable and should be considered as a reason to spare their lives. Individuals with severe mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia may experience cognitive impairments that affect their decision-making process. Various bodies have called for a ban on the death penalty among defendants with serious mental illnesses. Mentally ill defendants are incompetent, making them unfit to stand trial. Severe mental illness makes a defendant unable to cooperate with the jury and counsel. The criminal justice system should be reformed to ensure that mentally ill defendants are not executed with the death penalty by making amendments.


Bessler, J. D. (2019). Torture and trauma: Why the death penalty is wrong and should be strictly prohibited by American and international law. Washburn LJ58, 1.

Bodnár, E. (2021). The use of comparative law in the practice of the Hungarian Constitutional Court: An empirical analysis (1990–2019). Hungarian Journal of Legal Studies61(1), 1–22.

Haney, C., Zurbriggen, E. L., & Weill, J. M. (2022). The continuing unfairness of death qualification: Changing death penalty attitudes and capital jury selection. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 28(1), 1–31.

LaPrade, J., & Worrall, J. L. (2020). Determining intellectual disability in death penalty cases: A state-by-state analysis.


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