Death penalty laws should treat mental illness cases differently

The death penalty is one of the many issues that currently divides Americans.

Whether it be for political, religious or moral reasons, a majority of people seem to have firm stance on the issue.

However, as much as we want to see this issue as either black or white, it has a massive gray area that people tend to want to ignore, but we can’t help but face the elephant in the room now.

Texas has recently come under the media spotlight because a judge has ordered a man by the name of Stephen Staley, to be forced to take his medication in order to be properly executed.

Staley was convicted of shooting and killing a restaurant manager that was taken hostage during a failed robbery in 1989.

In order for the state of Texas to kill a convicted criminal, the individual must be able to understand why they are being put to death.

With this being the only qualification, Staley was declared competent to stand trial. Nevertheless, his mental health has continued to be an issue, especially as his execution date approaches.

Staley’s lawyer, John Stickels, told the Associated Press that his client suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, and seemed to imply that the only way his client would be fit to be executed, is if he were forced to take his medicine.

A State District Court judge previously ordered that Staley could be forcefully medicated.

In the same decision, the judge found that Staley was unfit to be executed without his medication.

This decision greatly angered people who are against the death penalty.

Kristin Houle, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, stated that Staley’s case raises “serious alarm bells” for mental health professionals.

“The justification for forcible medication is that it’s for the person’s own benefit, but in this case it’s for the benefit of the state,” Houle said. “It’s a gross perversion of mental health treatment.”

As liberal as I may be, I still happen to support the death penalty.

Sometimes it is the only justification for committing certain crimes, especially murder.

But, in the case of people with mental health issues and if it was really not under their control, I believe they should not be punished.

The evidence for this is hard to present; however, a slew of criminals have gotten away with murder because their lawyer pleaded insanity.

In reality, they were just ignorant, extremists like in Andres Behring Breivik.

Even if he was considered crazy, I see the only justified punishment for his killing spree of 77 people should be death.

Even though I do believe the death penalty should continue to be legal, I do think that the system should treat their cases of people with mental illnesses differently.

The system also should verify that their mental illness was caused by genetics and not by growing up with some absurd ideals.

Rebecca Ruiz is a senior business major and a contributing writer for the Daily 49er.

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