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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

South Dakota panel rejects eliminating death penalty for mentally ill offenders

A legislative panel on Monday defeated a bill that would have eliminated the option of the death sentence for severely mentally ill criminal offenders.

The House State Affairs Committee on a 8-4 vote opted to reject the bill after defense attorneys, mental health advocates and others advocated for its passage, saying severely mentally ill individuals shouldn't be subject to capital punishment.

The measure proposed instead setting a life sentence without opportunity for parole as the maximum penalty for criminal offenders found to have severe mental illnesses.

"You only execute morally culpable people and if you have a serious mental illness, you're not morally culpable," said the measure's sponsor Rep. Timothy Johns, R-Lead.

Attorney General Marty Jackley, state's attorneys from Minnehaha and Pennington Counties and others said the current process is adequate to assess offenders' mental health status and to eliminate the option of the death sentence for offenders who are found to have mental illnesses.

Aaron McGowan, Minnehaha County state's attorney, said very seldom do prosecutors seek the death penalty for offenders and those cases don't involve mentally ill individuals.

"We use it sparingly, we use it appropriately and we'd ask this committee to consider that these are evil defendants who have a hole in their brains where most of us have a conscience," he said.

Opponents also argued that the bill was an effort to eliminate capital punishment in South Dakota.

"HB 1099 is a death penalty repeal in all but name," Jackley said.

A handful of other states have considered and rejected similar measures.

Source: Argus Leader, February 15, 2017

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