SCOTUS considers dementia and the death penalty


“The eighth amendment isn’t just a window. It’s a mirror. And what the Court has said is that our norms, our values are implicated when we do things to really fragile, really vulnerable people. And what we’ve argued is that dementia in this case renders Mr. Madison frail, bewildered, vulnerable in a way that cannot be reconciled with executing him,” Equal Justice Initiative attorney Bryan Stevenson told the U.S. Supreme Court last week in his defense of Vernon Madison.

Madison has been on Alabama’s death row for 33 years, in solitary confinement, convicted of killing Mobile police officer Julius Schulte in April 1985. There is no question about his guilt, but there are serious questions about whether he should be executed, because Madison has no memory of the crime as the result of two strokes that left him with vascular dementia and long-term memory loss. He is also legally blind, cannot walk independently, and is incontinent.

His lawyers are asking the Supreme Court to addres the “urgent and compelling question about whether the Eighth Amendment permits the execution of someone with demential and acute cognitive decline.”

The state, of course, is arguing that Madison’s dementia is not severe enough to make executing him a violation of the constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. “Nothing about Mr. Madison’s conditions impact the state’s interest in seeking retribution for a heinous crime,” Assistant Alabama Attorney General Thomas Govan told the court.

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