Mentally Challenged and Death Row
Historically, there have been periods within the history of the criminal justice system that the purpose of incarceration was to rehabilitate the criminal. However, in certain cases, it was determined by legislatures in most states that individuals who committed certain specific crimes that these people were beyond rehabilitation. These criminals generally received capital punishment or the death penalty. In the last half of the twentieth century, administration of the death penalty has been controversial. Some believe that it is “cruel and unusual punishment.” Even the Supreme Court of the United States has fluctuated in their decision regarding the penalty of catch. In many countries, the death penalty has been abandoned because of religious beliefs and because it appears to be a poor deterrent While the use of the death penalty has been both championed and criticized, the use of capital punishment with criminals from certain populations have received especially harsh opposition. Generally, criminals who are mentally challenged and given the death penalty as a result of their crime are often interpreted as receiving extremely cruel punishments. Mentally challenged individuals include individuals who are mentally retarded and individuals who are under the age of eighteen. The purpose of this paper is to examine the use of the death penalty with criminals who are mentally challenged and whether there are alternatives to this punishment.
The primary issue with regard to mentally challenged criminals is determining whether these individuals are capable of understanding the legal system. In other words, it must be determined that they are mentally competent to stand trial in most states. If an individual cannot understand the seriousness of the crime he or she committed or if they are not capable of participating in their defense, then by some standards or opinions these individuals may not be determined to be competent. But generally, this is applicable to individuals who suffer from mental illness, and who are psychologically not able to determine right from wrong. Advocates for the use of the death penalty with mentally challenged criminals point out that the age of reason was often associated with the age of seven. In other words, even young children can understand the difference between right and wrong at an early age and people who are mildly retarded.
The problem is that mentally challenged individuals are capable of committed heinous and horrific crimes such as murder, sex crimes, torture, etc. The argument is that if the individual is capable of committing crimes that generally result in the death penalty, then they should not be excused from the punishment that is provided to all such criminals. Some disagree and suggest that the fact that these criminals were mentally challenged suggests that they were unable to understand that their behaviors were actual crimes.