execution Ford v. Wainwright incompetency mental illness Texas

Execution Date to be Withdrawn for Man with Severe Mental Illness

According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, State District Judge Wayne Salvant plans to withdraw the execution date he set for Steven Staley in order to conduct yet another hearing to determine whether he is mentally competent to be executed.  Staley had been scheduled for execution by the State of Texas on December 1.

Staley was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic after he arrived on death row in 1991.  For the last few years, he has been forced to take anti-psychotic drugs against his will.  Staley believes that the drugs are poisoning him.  State officials argue that this forced medication is necessary in order to render him competent to be executed.

In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Ford v. Wainwright that it is unconstitutional to execute someone who does not understand the reason for, or the reality of, his or her punishment.  The Ford decision left the determination of insanity and competency for execution up to each state, however, and it has not prevented the execution of scores of offenders with severe and persistent mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

In Texas, the state legislature did not establish a statute governing the process to determine competency to be executed until 1999, and the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which considers cases from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, has never found a death row inmate incompetent for execution.

Article 46.05 in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure states that:

“(a)    A person who is incompetent to be executed may not be executed.

(b)     The trial court retains jurisdiction over motions filed by or for a defendant under this article. …

(h)     A defendant is incompetent to be executed if the defendant does not understand:

(1) that he or she is to be executed and that the execution is imminent; and

(2) the reason he or she is being executed.”

The statute does not address the issue of forced medication, however, and state and federal courts have allowed it.

You can read more about Steven Staley on the Prevention Not Punishment blog and in the Star-Telegram.

Learn more about issues surrounding the death penalty and severe mental illness.  TCADP’s website contains case studies, a fact sheet, and a comprehensive resource guide that provides talking points, resources, and other information.

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