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October 1, 2018
Previewing SCOTUS consideration of capital competency (and making a case for abolition)
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument in Madison v. Alabama on Tuesday morning, and Amy Howe has this argument preview at SCOTUSblog titled "Justices to consider competency in capital cases." Her post starts this way:
It has been over 33 years since Vernon Madison shot and killed Julius Schulte, a police officer in Mobile, Alabama. Schulte had come to Madison’s house to protect Madison’s former girlfriend and her daughter while they moved out; Schulte was sitting in his car when Madison shot him twice in the back of the head. Madison was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death, but next week the Supreme Court will hear oral argument on whether it would violate the Constitution to execute Madison when he has no memory of his crime.
Madison, now in his late 60s, has been on death row for over 30 years. During that time, he has had several strokes, which have left him with significant brain damage. Madison suffers from dementia and long-term memory loss; he is also legally blind and can no longer walk without assistance. Since Madison’s stroke, his lawyers tell the Supreme Court, Madison “has repeatedly asked for his mother to come and visit him even though she has been dead for years.”
Madison also cannot remember any of the details of the crime that put him on death row, including Schulte’s name, the events surrounding the crime, or his trial. After his execution was scheduled for January of this year, Madison went to state court to challenge his competency to be executed, armed with evidence that a court-appointed expert who had evaluated him, and whose findings had played a key role in earlier rulings that Madison was competent to be executed, was abusing narcotics and was eventually suspended from practicing psychology. The state court would have allowed Madison’s execution to go forward, but the Supreme Court stepped in and — over the objection of Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch — put the execution on hold while it considered Madison’s request for review.
Interestingly, the National Review has published this notable commentary authored by George Will discussing this case under the headline "America Should Strike Down the Death Penalty." Here are excerpts:
The mills of justice grind especially slowly regarding capital punishment, which courts have enveloped in labyrinthine legal protocols. As the mills have ground on, life has ground Madison, 68, down to wreckage. After multiple serious strokes, he has vascular dementia, an irreversible and progressive degenerative disease. He also is legally blind, his speech is slurred, he has Type 2 diabetes and chronic hypertension, he cannot walk unassisted, he has dead brain tissue, and urinary incontinence. A nd he no longer remembers the crime that put him on death row for most of his adult life. This is why on Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about the constitutionality of executing him....
The court has said that “we may seriously question the retributive value of executing a person who has no comprehension of why he has been singled out and stripped of his fundamental right to life.” For many people, the death penalty for especially heinous crimes satisfies a sense of moral symmetry. Retribution — society’s cathartic expression of a proportional response to attacks on its norms — is not, however, the only justification offered for capital punishment. Deterrence is another. But by now this power is vanishingly small because imposition of the death penalty is so sporadic and glacial. Because the process of getting from sentencing to execution is so protracted, currently averaging 15 years, senescent persons on the nation’s death rows are going to be problems as long as there is capital punishment....
Sixty years ago, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that the Eighth Amendment — particularly the idea of what counts as “cruel” punishments — “must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” Concerning which, two caveats are apposite: “evolving” is not a synonym for “improving,” and a society can become, as America arguably is becoming, infantilized as it “matures.” That said, it certainly is true that standards of decency do evolve and that America’s have improved astonishingly since 1958: Think about segregated lunch counters and much else.
Conservatives have their own standards, including this one: The state — government — already is altogether too full of itself, and investing it with the power to inflict death on anyone exacerbates its sense of majesty and delusions of adequacy.
UPDATE: I just saw this interesting new OZY piece discussing Madison and related issues under the headline "Why the Battle over Dementia Patients on Death Row? Better Lawyers."
October 1, 2018 at 11:20 AM | Permalink
I would be surprised if this was not a 9-0, in favor of the inmate, if the dementia is as described.
Posted by: Dudley sharp | Oct 7, 2018 6:41:55 PM
George Will made a number of flawed arguments, which I detailed in the comment section of the Washington Post, which ran the same article.
Doug, could you add that active link.
Posted by: Dudley sharp | Oct 7, 2018 6:59:40 PM