The death penalty is always a hot topic in any discussion, but is HB 722 another back-door attempt to do away with the death penalty without addressing the issue itself?
HB 722, “Capital Punishment/Severe Disabilities,” would mandate that a killer who suffered from a “severe mental disability” when the crime was committed would not be sentenced to death. Sponsored by Reps. Paul Stam (R-Wake), Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson), Sarah Stevens (R-Surry), and Jonathan Jordan (R-Ashe), the law addresses “post conviction procedures for a person with a severe mental disability.” But the details of the bill suggest that the families of murder victims would almost surely be put through yet another trial if the accused was found guilty and sentenced to death, yet could appeal on the grounds he had a severe mental disability.
Stam said the issue of executing the mentally disabled is “nothing new,” quoting 18th century legal scholar William Blackstone: “A madman shall be punished by his madness alone.”
“You don’t deter crime by punishing those that everybody knows can’t be deterred – the people who are clearly mentally disabled or deficient,” Stam said in committee. “That’s what this bill is about. It’s not – not, not, not – about weakening the death penalty on capital crimes.”
If HB 722 is not about weakening the death penalty, then why are so many DAs against the bill?
North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys Director Peg Dorer spoke on the issue.”DAs oppose this bill,” she said. “The issue of mental disability should be weighed by the jury, not by the judge. It only takes one juror to make that decision, and the death penalty is not found.”
Here’s the law’s definition of severe mental instability: “any mental disability or defect that significantly impairs a person’s capacity to do any of the following: (i) appreciate the nature, consequences, or wrongfulness of the person’s conduct in the criminal offense; (ii) exercise rational judgment in relation to the criminal offense; or (iii) conform the person’s conduct to the requirements of the law in connection with the criminal offense.”
No murderer is conforming to the laws of society, so wouldn’t one be able to say that anyone who commits a murder is not mentally stable? And how many murderers could be said to be “exercising rational judgment” when they take an innocent victim’s life?
No murderer fully appreciates the wrongfulness of his acts. And if a lawyer says the accused would do it again, then would a killer be immune to the death penalty?
Dorer said the change would encourage “judge shopping” and would cost more money, as opposed to saving it, as proponents claim. She predicted that all the current inmates on the state’s death row would seek relief under the measure, forcing the state to re-litigate those cases.
That concern was echoed by Rep. Debra Conrad, R-Forsyth, who said her local DA “compared the bill to the Racial Justice Act,” predicting that “it will the end death penalty as a punishment in North Carolina.”
Almost all NC death-row convicts have appealed under the Racial Justice Act, regardless of the race of the killers or their victims. It’s easy to see that under HB 722, almost any convicted murderer would claim a mental deficiency, if only to delay the day of reckoning.
I spoke to Stam the other day and he was not confident the bill would make crossover and get to the Senate, meaning that the bill would die.
HB 722 sounds like lawmakers simply don’t have the guts to push for full repeal of the death penalty. Why else punish the families, courts, and DAs with all this nonsense? That is why HB 722 is this week’s Bad Bill of the Week.