Amicus Brief Highlights Supreme Court Precedent Prohibiting Execution of Individuals Whose Mental Illness Prevents Understanding of their Punishment
WASHINGTON, July 31, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) filed an amicus brief today, along with three Florida mental health organizations, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the execution of John Ferguson, a man with a long history of severe mental illness, who is on Florida's death row and scheduled for execution on Monday, Aug. 5.
The amicus brief explains that Ferguson's execution would violate the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because the Florida Supreme Court failed to apply the Supreme Court case, Panetti v. Quarterman (2007), that requires an individual to have a rational understanding of why he is being put to death and the effect of the death penalty.
"The death penalty is not constitutionally allowable as a punishment for John Ferguson because his delusions prevent him from understanding the nature of what is happening to him," said Ron Honberg, J.D., NAMI's national director of policy and legal affairs.
"The constitutional principle does not excuse his crimes, but it does point to life without parole as the appropriate sentence."
Ferguson has a documented 40-year history of profound mental illness, including multiple diagnoses by state doctors in state institutions. He suffers from psychotic hallucinations, including the belief that he is the "Prince of God," that he cannot be killed, and his body will not remain in a grave. He believes he will rise up after his execution and fight alongside Jesus to save America from a communist plot.
Along with NAMI, state organizations filing the amicus brief with are NAMI Florida, the Florida Psychiatric Society and the Florida Psychological Association. The amici members have participated in competency hearings and have a strong interest in having the courts apply the correct legal standards for mental competence.
The Florida Supreme Court applied an outdated, unconstitutional standard and held that it was sufficient to show that Ferguson had a mere factual awareness of his execution. But the U.S. Supreme Court in Panetti rejected that standard six years ago. U.S. Supreme Court precedent currently requires a showing that individuals have a rational understanding of why they are being put to death and the effect of their execution. Thus, the Florida ruling – which one federal appeals court called "patently incorrect" – is incompatible with the Eighth Amendment.
NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI advocates for access to services, treatment, supports and research and is steadfast in its commitment to raising awareness and building a community of hope.