The American Bar Association passed a resolution on August 8 at its annual conference recommending that jurisdictions refrain from sentencing to death or executing individuals with severe mental disorders. Using language adopted earlier by the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association, the resolution asserted that defendants should not be executed or sentenced to death if, at the time of the offense, they had “significant limitations in both their intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior,” or had “a severe mental disorder or disability that significantly impaired their capacity (a) to appreciate the nature, consequences or wrongfulness of their conduct, (b) to exercise rational judgment in relation to conduct, or (c) to conform their conduct to the requirements of the law.”

The ABA’s resolution would also exempt those whose onset of mental disorder or disability occurs after sentencing. According to the resolution, a sentence of death should not be carried out if the prisoner has a mental disorder or disability that significantly impairs his or her capacity:

  • to make a rational decision to forgo or terminate post-conviction proceedings available to challenge the validity of the conviction or sentence;
  • to understand or communicate pertinent information, or otherwise assist counsel, in relation to specific claims bearing on the validity of the conviction or sentence that cannot be fairly resolved without the prisoner’s participation; or
  • to understand the nature and purpose of the punishment, or to appreciate the reason for its imposition in the prisoner’s own case.

(See ABA Resolution 122A and accompanying report , August 8, 2006). See also Mental Illness.