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May 30, 2008

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Sarah L.

I find your post deeply objectionable. He is mentally ill, but that does not mean he is an animal, or is like an animal. Since you ask in your post, I will say that I know a number of people with a similar clinical history, and that they are, of course, as human as any other person.

Dan Filler

Sarah, if my post conveyed a sense that I consider people with mental illness less than fully human, I'm very sorry - I don't believe that at all. What I meant to argue was that a political system that claims to issue death sentences only where a person has full awareness and comprehension of his crime and where a person receives a fair trial (notwithstanding trial choices made by a person not clearly competent to assess trial strategy) is not meeting those assumptions. RAther, it is is acting outside the bounds of both the retributive assumptions of criminal law and the accuracy assumptions of jury trial findings. In that sense, execution can no longer be seen as an accurate moral response to crime - but rather looks an awful lot like manifestation of a desire to "put down" a person that appears dangerous. (This is in accord with many death penalty experts' who argue that evidence of mental illness increases the likelihood of a death sentence - precisely because jurors view such individuals as the equivalent of wild animals who cannot be rehabilitated, deterred, or even incapacitated.) I am by no means arguing that such defendants are in fact wild animals or are their equivalent.

As to my suggestion that this individual is unusual, I only wanted to indicate to those claiming that this person was malingering, and is not mentally ill, that his diagnoses are consistent with someone who genuinely has a mental illness.

All of this said, I recognize that there is a segment of the disability rights movement that may object to these claims - and indeed rejects Atkins entirely, since the conclusion that people with mental retardation are somehow less culpable for crime can be seen to imply that these folks are somehow less human. I am willing to accept that risk, because I believe that individuals with mental retardation do have a different (not less, but different) decisionmaking process when it comes to criminal acts and have different (and more limited) capabilities to aid in their own defense at trial. Although it varies by case, I suspect that this is usually true of people with signficant mental illness as well.

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