Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Panetti Oral Argument Today

Panetti Oral Argument Today

Oral argument in the Scott Panetti case is scheduled for this afternoon at 1:00 p.m., EDT. The transcript should be available later this afternoon at this LINK.

Nina Totenberg had a preview this morning on NPR's Morning Edition. You can hear the report here.

SCOTUS Blog's Lyle Denniston has a preview here.

Nearly 21 years ago, the Supreme Court indicated strongly that convicted murderer Alvin Bernard Ford was too insane to be executed for his crime. The controlling opinion on the point in Ford v. Wainwright (477 U.S. 399, decided June 26, 1986, by a 5-4 vote) was by Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. "The Eighth Amendment forbids the execution...of those unaware of the punishment they are about to suffer and why they are to suffer it," Powell wrote. Ford's claim of insanity, he added, "plainly fits within this standard." Almost a quarter-century later, the Court on Wednesday will examine whether to refine the "Powell standard," or to keep it as is, perhaps leaving any refinements to state legislatures.

In the one-hour oral argument scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. in Panetti v. Quarterman (06-6407), the Court will be examining a variety of formulations of "insanity" in the Eighth Amendment context. (The Court may also spend some time discussing with counsel whether Panetti's case should be dismissed -- an issue the Court raised belatedly. This blog discussed that aspect of the case is a post that can be found here; that issue will not be further explored in this post.)

SCOTUS Blog has also rounded up other commentary, some previously linked here, in this post..

The Christian Science Monitor has, "Does death penalty ever apply to those ever found insane?"

There is universal agreement in the United States that an individual convicted of a capital crime who is mentally incompetent may not be executed. To do so would violate the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishments.

But just how mentally ill does a defendant have to be to trigger that broadly accepted Eighth Amendment prohibition?

That is the question the US Supreme Court takes up on Wednesday in a case involving the often bizarre legal odyssey of Texas death row inmate Scott Panetti.

The Austin American-Statesman has, "U.S. Supreme Court to consider mental illness in case of Texas inmate."

Panetti says "Sarge," one of four personalities, killed the Alvarados. His first competency hearing ended in a hung jury. Panetti demanded to represent himself at his second competency hearing, and the trial judge agreed.

At that hearing, Panetti wore a cowboy costume and offered a stream-of-consciousness defense that referenced buffaloes, Jesus and a "bad sickness in his mother's milk." He subpoenaed President Kennedy, Pope John Paul II and Jesus. The jury found him competent to stand trial. He was convicted in 1995.

For the past 12 years, Panetti has been known as the "preacher" to other inmates on the state's death row. Mental health experts say he is convinced that the reason the state wants to execute him is to keep him from preaching the Gospel and that he sees his murder conviction as a cover for his execution.

According to experts who have examined him, Panetti's mental illness is worse now because he has refused medication for years. Mental health experts for both the prosecution and the defense have concluded that he is not faking his illness, but there is disagreement about its severity.

"Mr. Panetti is absolutely clean, and he is watched all of the time," said Seth Silverman, a forensic psychiatrist who evaluated Panetti for the defense.

Earlier coverage is here, here, and here.

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