Supreme Court Takes Fourth Texas Death Penalty Case
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on January 5 to hear another death penalty case from Texas, this one involving a defendant who may be mentally incompetent. In 1986, the Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to execute an inmate who is presently insane. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that Scott Panetti, who was allowed to defend himself in his Texas trial despite his schizophrenia and 14 stints in mental hospitals, and who says the devil compelled his actions, was aware that he committed a crime and that he was to be punished. The question for the Supreme Court is whether mere awareness of one's acts can be equated with mental competetence, or whether the person also needs to rationally understand what is taking place. The National Alliance on Mental Illness had urged the Justices to take the case, Panetti v. Quarterman, No. 06-6407.
(N.Y. Times, Jan. 6, 2007). See Supreme Court and Mental Illness. The Court has taken three other cases from Texas for this term, all involving lower courts' interpretations of previous Supreme Court rulings.