HB 722 “Capital Procedure/Severe Disability” has been filed, sent to committee, and now has been sent to the Rules Committee.
When first looking at the bill, one would think it would be drawing a line between a severe mental disability and alcohol use in cases where the death penalty can be applied. Insanity would not be a suitable defense if “… prior alcohol or drug use or both are the sole cause of the psychosis or if voluntary intoxication, a voluntary drugged condition, or both combined are the sole support for the defense.” This sounds acceptable, but when looking closely at the bill something caught my eye.
Section 15-A-2007 states:
Definition. – For purposes of this section, the term “severe mental disability” means 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.
If someone is on trial for a murder and capital punishment is an option, then the person on trial obviously would not on some level “appreciate the consequences or wrongfulness” of their conduct in the crime, or at least a good lawyer would be able to argue no murderer thought about it rationally
While reading on in the bill I was surprised to find out that someone will be able to bring in evidence before, during, and after the trial to say he or she has a “severe mental disability.”
Section 15A-2008 states:
A motion seeking appropriate relief from a death sentence on the ground that the defendant had a severe mental disability at the time of the commission of 36 the capital crime shall be filed:
a. On or before January 31, 2014, if the defendant’s conviction and sentence of death were entered prior to October 1, 2013.
b. Within 150 days of the imposition of a sentence of death if the defendant’s trial was in progress on October 1, 2013. For purposes of this section, a trial is considered to be in progress if the process of jury selection has begun.
Because of this information a convicted murderer can now say that they have a “severe mental disability” regardless of what several courts have already convicted them of. If they apply for this motion and found to be severely mentally disabled then their sentence would be life without parole.
If you have been found guilty of a murder, sentenced to death, can appeal because of vague terms, and then have your sentence commuted after a jury has unanimously decided to sentence you to death … does this sound familiar?
It is all too familiar to the families of murder victims who have watched killers delay or even escape execution under the Racial Justice Act. That’s why HB 722 could cause the same problems, and wreak the same havoc on the legal system and the families of crime victims.