It is widely accepted that incarcerated individuals experience mental illness and mental disability at a far-higher rate than the general public. Unsurprisingly, data suggests that this trend extends to death row prisoners, as well. But because social and scientific understanding of mental illnesses and disabilities has evolved considerably in recent years, many current death row prisoners were sentenced to death at a time when meaningful consideration of these disabilities was impossible. As a result, having a basic and up-to-date understanding of the sorts of mental illnesses and disabilities that are most likely to impact death row prisoners today is especially important to clemency advocacy and review.
To that end, the CCRI worked with the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law to produce a series of Fact Sheets that provide brief descriptions of several of the serious conditions that individuals on death row may exhibit and that are often relevant to their clemency requests. Each Fact Sheet is based on the most recent scientific and legal consensus available at the time of publication and contains: a general description of the condition or diagnosis; common symptoms; possible impacts on behavior; recent developments in how experts diagnose or understand the condition; and select resources for additional information.
These Fact Sheets may be helpful to decision makers, members of the public, or lawyers who are not familiar with a particular diagnosis that may be raised in a clemency request and who want to understand the basics of the condition and where to go for more in-depth information. However, please note that these Fact Sheets only offer brief overviews of each condition and serve simply as a starting point for considering the impacts of different diagnoses. They do not provide the level of detail, citations, medical terminology, or full diagnostic criteria that would be utilized by an expert or medical professional to make a diagnosis. Additionally, these Fact Sheets cannot account for variations in how a single diagnosis or multiple diagnoses may present in any specific individual, as genetics, culture, personality, specific traumas, and other circumstances can all impact how a particular disability affects different people.
Any lawyer who is representing a client seeking capital clemency that has or may have a mental illness or disability must do significantly more research than is available here in order to appropriately consider how this illness or disability may be relevant to the case for clemency. Among other things, clemency attorneys working with a mentally ill or potentially mentally ill death-row client must independently research all existing or potential diagnoses; gather all potentially relevant records; review the most up-to-date scholarship and clinical literature regarding the condition(s); and may need to seek expert assistance in evaluating the client and his or her medical history. Nevertheless, the CCRI hopes that these Fact Sheets will provide a useful starting point for clemency practitioners, the public, and other interested stakeholders to start thinking about these conditions.
Download All Fact Sheets (single pdf)