A new report from the Charlotte School of Law on mental illness and the death penalty reveals that obstacles entrenched within the criminal justice system impede efforts to identify those with severe mental illness and treat them fairly. The report, “Mental Illness and the Death Penalty in North Carolina: A Diagnostic Approach,” is based on a 2006 symposium hosted by the law school. It examines scientific studies of mental illness and provides an overview of laws established to protect those with mental illness from unjustly facing the death penalty. The report concludes that current legal protections are inadequate, in large part because mentally ill offenders are often allowed to undermine their own defense. Additionally, the legal definitions of mental incompetence which might spare a person from the death penalty do not align with clinical judgments that medical practitioners have to make. Moreover, jurors in death penalty cases often perceive mental illness as an aggravating - rather than a mitigating - factor.

The report concludes that a series of reforms are necessary to build a consensus between the science of mental illness and the law. In addition to its reform recommendations, the report highlights cases of mentally ill North Carolina defendants who have been sentenced to death. The report provides resolutions on this subject from the American Bar Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the American Psychiatric Association.
(“Mental Illness and the Death Penalty in North Carolina: A Diagnostic Approach,” Charlotte School of Law, 2007). See Mental Illness and the Death Penalty.