Execution Stayed for Mentally Incompetent Inmate

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Common Dreams

Execution Stayed for Mentally Incompetent Inmate

Lawyer argued inmate's constitutional rights violated by forcibly medicating him so that he'd be declared competent enough to execute

by
Common Dreams staff

A stay has been issued for the execution of a Texas death row inmate who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia after his lawyers argued his constitutional rights were being violated by being forcibly given antipsychotic drugs so that he could be declared mentally competent enough to be executed, the Texas Tribune reports.

Prosecutors have argued that the medication for the inmate, Steven Staley, is in his best interests.

Staley, who was sentenced to death in 1991 for the 1989 shooting of a man during a robbery, was previously given a stay in 2006 after courts declared him mentally incompetent. Psychologist Mark Cunningham wrote then that Staley remained "profoundly psychotic and delusional" despite medication. But Tarrant County state District Judge Wayne Salvant ordered Staley forcibly medicated and overruled the stay, saying, "I'm not going to let the doctors tell me whether or not they want to do this."

Staley's execution had been scheduled for Wednesday.

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The Texas Tribune: Execution stayed for mentally ill man condemned for Fort Worth slaying

Two weeks ago, psychologist Kristi Compton evaluated Staley on Death Row and signed an affidavit that he was competent but could quickly return to a psychotic state. [...]

She evaluated Staley again Monday and found that he was no longer competent.

That raises the primary question that Staley's lawyers want answered: whether the Constitution allows the state to force someone to take medication so he or she can be executed.

The American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association both consider it unethical for doctors to provide treatments to patients when the purpose is execution. And state supreme courts in Louisiana and South Carolina have ruled that forcibly medicating patients so they can be executed violates those states' constitutions. [...]

"It is obvious that the whole purpose of medicating him was to get him competent to be executed," Stickels [a lawyer for Staley] said. "I don't think that's right. I don't think that's constitutional."

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Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty: Court of Criminal Appeals Grants Stay to Steven Staley

Staley was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic after he arrived on death row in 1991.  At times over the last few years, he has been forced to take anti-psychotic drugs against his will.  Staley believes that the drugs are poisoning him.  State officials argue that this forced medication is necessary in order to render him competent to be executed.

In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Ford v. Wainwright that it is unconstitutional to execute someone who does not understand the reason for, or the reality of, his or her punishment.  The Ford decision left the determination of insanity and competency for execution up to each state, however, and it has not prevented the execution of scores of offenders with severe and persistent mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

In Texas, the state legislature did not establish a statute governing the process to determine competency to be executed until 1999, and the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which considers cases from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, has never found a death row inmate incompetent for execution.  Texas’ statute does not address the issue of forced medication, however, and some state and federal courts have allowed it.  According to Staley’s attorney, John Stickels, the U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed the question of involuntary medication for the purposes of execution.

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Death Penalty Information Center: Texas Scheduled to Execute Forcibly-Medicated Inmate

On death row, [Staley] has given himself black eyes and self-inflicted lacerations. He has been found spreading feces and covered with urine. If Staley is executed, he will probably be the first inmate executed while being forcibly medicated for mental incompetency. In a similar case in Arkansas, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled that Charles Singleton could be forcibly medicated to make him sane enough for execution, but Singleton began taking his medication voluntarily several weeks before he was executed in 2004.

The Supreme Courts of Louisiana and South Carolina have ruled that drugging someone in order to render him competent to be executed would violate their state constitutions, but the U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on the issue.

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