mental illness

In Madison v. Alabama the Supreme Court held 5-3 that the Eighth Amendment prohibits a person who lacks a “rational understanding” due to mental illness for why the death penalty has been imposed to be put to death regardless of what mental illness the person is suffering from.  

Vernon Madison was sentenced to death for killing a police officer in 1985. Since then he has suffered a series of strokes and has been diagnosed with vascular dementia. He claims he no longer remembers the crime for which he has been sentenced to death.

In Ford v. Wainwright (1986), the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments disallows executing a person who has “lost his sanity” after sentencing.  The Court “clarified the scope of that category in Panetti v. Quarterman [2007] by focusing on whether a prisoner can ‘reach a rational understanding of the reason for [his] execution.’”

In a 6-2 decision, the Supreme Court declined to decide one of the most important questions this term for state and local government: whether Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires police officers to accommodate suspects who are armed, violent, and mentally ill when bringing them into custody. But the Court held that the officers in City and County of San Francisco v. Sheehan were entitled to qualified immunity.

When police officers entered Teresa Sheehan’s room in a group home for persons with mental illness to take her to a hospital for psychiatric care, she threatened to kill them with a knife she held, so they retreated. Before backup arrived, the officers decided to reenter her room to prevent her from gathering more weapons or escaping. Upon reentry, Sheehan still had the knife in her hand and yelled for them to leave. One officer pepper sprayed Sheehan but she refused to drop the knife. The officers then shot her multiple times but she survived.