Supreme Court to Address Consequences of Mental Incompetency During Death Penalty Appeals

The U.S. Supreme Court granted review in two cases from Arizona and Ohio to explore whether death penalty appeals can continue if the defendant is mentally incompetent. Under the Court’s prior rulings in Ford v. Wainwright (1986) and in Atkins v. Virginia (2002), defendants cannot be executed if they are insane or intellectually disabled (mentally retarded). The new cases, Ryan v. Gonzalez and Tibbals v. Carter, will decide whether mentally incompetent death row inmates are entitled to a stay of federal habeas proceedings because they cannot assist their counsel. The U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Ninth and Sixth Circuits, respectively, found that the defendants’ competency was necessary during federal habeas review, thus staying the proceedings indefinitely. The states that asked the Court to review this question asserted that the appeals can go forward, despite the defendants inability to participate. The cases will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in its next term beginning in October.

(L. Denniston, “Competency and death row challenges,” SCOTUSblog, March 19, 2012). Read more about Ryan v. Gonzalez ( No. 10-930) and Tibbals v. Carter (No. 11-218). See Mental Illness and U.S. Supreme Court.