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tv   Inside Story  Al Jazeera  December 26, 2014 5:00pm-5:31pm EST

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popularity she has a facebook page where people are asking for these bags. >> that's terrific. ines, thank you. we'll see you back here at 6:00. you as well. i'm tony harris. "inside story" is next. >> they check credit weather a person is of right mind if they committed a crime. they check if a defendant is mentally capability to assist in in their defense. should they determine if a person is mentally capable before an execution date is set? this is "inside story."
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hello, i'm ray suarez. as a society we're nervously circling the deathment. sometimes ready to reopen cases if there is suspension of mistaken verdict. and now can someone who is mentally disabled be taken to the death chamber. are there people who are incable of reasoning? incapable of knowing the consequences of their actions, incapable of exercising something that we would call intent in such a way that ending their lives is unjust? that's our focus this time on inside story. >> reporter: capital punishment is legal in 32 states. a new report from the death penalty information station found a new low in death againsts and executions. just 35 people were put to death this
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year. meanwhile, 72 people were sentenced to death, the lowest number in the modern era of the death penalty dating back to 1974. also in play, the mental health and mental capacity of inmates. according to the report, mellow disabilities loomed as an emerging issue in 2014 the supreme court has ruled it uninstitutional to execute the mentally disabled, although it has not provided a clear definition of what disability is or pointed to one factor such as a specific i.q. level. two recent executions highlight the issue. paul good win convicted in missouri, and robert wayne
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holsey in georgia, were convicted in december, both men, their lawyers say, were mentally impaired. good win convicted of killing a woman in 1998 had and a i.q. of 73 and claimed insanity at his trial. good win's sister fought to change his sentence to life behind bars said that execution was not a just punishment for his crime, an act that occurred out of passion not premeditation by a man with the mental capability of a child, not an adult. p "h" olsey claimed an intellectual disability. he argued in a petition to the supreme court that the state had not given him the opportunity to prove his disability. and on hold for now is the execution of convicted murderer scott pa nettie. in early december, a court stayed his execution.
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as of october 1st mr. there were 3,035 inmates on death row across the country. this year only seven states carried out executions. the lowest number of states in 25 years. >> putting in exceptions, caveats, age limits, boundaries, if states were to apply the plain ruling on executing the mentally ill, how would we distinguish of those who killed with reduced capacity, and those who have done it with full awareness of their actions? joining us, richard dieter, george parnum, and charles simpson.
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i want to begin with the core question, is it justify to believe kill someone, deliver the ultimate penalty. >> no, i don't think it is. i think the american people through their representatives even though 32 states offer the death penalty, the military offer it, most murderers do not get charged with a capital crime. those eligible for capital crimes do not get charged with capital offenses. and there's a whole series of steps along the way that george and my colleague could walk you through that i think filter away the possibility that the vast majority of pooch with mental illness who is commit horrific crimes, would ultimately get the ultimate punishment. i don't think that given the filters in place that the systems are set up that way. has it happened? i'm sure it has. stemcally is it designed that
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way? no. >> so, charles, not really much of a problem here. do we have enough protections in place that the questions are asked and answered long before someone is looking for a vein in somebody's arm? >> i believe we have certain standards in place, certain procedures in place. however, they still ant sufficient to prevent the state from executing an individual who is severely memorially ill. as a matter of fact, the state of texas in the case of scott panetti is doingly that. the guarantees have failed in purpose and process of procedure. >> you know, there is that
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saying that anyone who goes pro se, anyone who represents themselves has a fool for a client. but in this case it seems he had a nut for a client. this is someone who shows signs of being out of contact with reality. yet those protections, those break points that you have identified in your first answer don't seem to have been there. >> well, what we know, i'm currently a defense attorney in the military, is that a lot of people in the criminal justice system have mental health issues. whether those issues rise to the level of this gentleman in texas, his mental health issues, you can't say for sure. i assume that texas like most states allow people to represent themselves. it's hardly ever a good idea, ray. it just is not.
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i've always counseled clients against it. but they do have that right. if the judge jumped through the hoops and asked him or her the questions pursuant to state law, it may be allowed. not that the judge is in agreement of it, but that's it's in compliance of the law. it sound like this guy is off his rocker. there is no scientific test. there is no mathematical equation to solve these issues. this give and tug, this discussion at the state and federal level making sure that you have the defense lawyers and the prosecutors and the judicial system speak to the state ledture to correct any laws that are mistaken or improve upon laws that are in splays. 60% of americans on average going back to the 1930's are in
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favor of the death penalty in appropriate cases. >> well, you heard them explain the protections that are in place. you've heard george parnum say that they clearly don't always work. when someone is approaching the date of their execution, and by widespread testimony they are not in full possession of mental capacity to make judges and decisions about their defense, their appeals orientated to place and person. they are just not fully mentally capable, how does this happen? what happened for it to get to this point? >> well, the problem is that we don't have a protection for exempt be the mental ill from the death penalty.
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we do have a protection for the insane, but that's a high hurdle to reach. it means that you have no idea of why you're being punished. >> what the supreme court speak to, did they say insane and leave out mentally ill? what could "z" they say that leaves this gray area for us to discuss? >> they just dealt with the instain. in a recent ruling and it was in the panetti case in 2007, you should look at the person's whole mental history in deciding if they know what is happening to them, but they have yet to carve out the seriously mentally ill from the death penalty. they have carved out those with intellectual disabilities, those being mentally retarded. they've carved out juveniles. there are a lot of people with serious mental illness who should, exempted, and the court could take that on. but they haven't yet. we have all these people on the border who could be executed,
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and with the death penalty being a political battle that it is, each side pushing to get their way mistakes can slip in, and we take them out of the mental institution and put them on a gurney. >> we'll talk about where those borders are and figure out where they are. we'll be back after the short break. how do you decide who are mentally impaired and those who aren't, it's not a throw-away argument. it's a challenge with no easy answer. it's a challenge that won't yield easily to a 50-state solution. stay with us.
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>> you're watching inside story on al jazeera america. i'm ray suarez. we're looking at the execution of the millionl million--of the mentally ill.
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the supreme court has forbidden it, but has not come up with screens. soldier barnum, if we set out rules that are specific to rule people in and rule people out, would the game then shift to figure out how to present yourself as someone who gets ruled out? >> you know, that question goes to the heart of the public in issuing the judiciary of the mental illness. in would denigrate psychiatry to the point that it suggested that
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an individual could use it as an excuse and make up mellow illness as a consequence of his or her actions. it's my opinion that the true nature of mental illness needs to be understood. i don't believe having process or procedures in place to determine whether or not an individual was so severely mentally ill as to not know what that person was doing was wrong or appreciate the nature or consequences of other actions. i don't believe given the circumstances that the situation and protections in place that then an individual can fake it, and remove him or her from the gurney, so to speak. >> what do you think? would it be a manipulatable system, if we try to be specific
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about who clears the bar and who doesn't? >> i agree with george in large part. very few people are able to ma linger in such a way. i wealthed counsel from government and assumed that they were telling the truth. we're talking about an infetessimal amount of people. the reason why it would be unwise to draw a bright line in this gray area. as richard said, the inzane, that's understandable, the youth who commit murders are not eligible for the death penalty. we get those thanksgiving. those are bright lines. but the mental health community does not come to universal agreement of how you draw a line within this gray area. you'll have, and as i've seen
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mental health experts say one thing about a defendant, and others will draw a different conclusion about a defendant. how nine justices who sit in a marble palace, how are they going to draw decisions when they're j.d.s and not m.d.s and mental health professionals. they can't do it. >> is this slated to be like pornography, something that you only know when you see it. >> i agree that it's difficult to define who is mentally ill. that's one of the problems with the deathment. there are always going to be cases on the border. you know, it's supposed to be reserved for the worst of the worse, and it's a matter of life and death. yet all of these gray areas exist. so one solution so instead of
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executing people, we keep them in prison. we know life is gray. if we're not willing to go there the american psychiatric association and american bar association has drawn up guidelines for exempting the mentally ill. that would an starting place for the court to look at. >> what about sub normal intelligence. not necessarily ongoing mental illness, like bipolar or schizophrenia, but someone who operates at such a reduced level that if we try to say that 70 i.q. is the cut-off point, people who are 85, merely not very intelligent, it might not be gaming as much as trying to under play a person's mental acuity in order to get them under an umbrella and save them
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from an execution? >> that would scribe half my clients and half of george's clients and half the clients in the industry. yes, we see people with low-i.q. people committing crimes and getting caught, but many don't have the opportunity to be brought up in a two-parent family, drug abuse, physical abuse in their backgrounds i think generally people consider diminished capacity, low i.q. something below 70. but i think judges should have the flexibility to allow various experts to come in in state courts where most of these case as tried anyway, and present the best evidence they can to the court as a threshold manner, but if they can pass the test that george was referencing, then the
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jury, the jury will take away, for example, one of the cases that i participated in as a prosecutor in san diego that was a death penalty case, the jury recommended the death penalty for this particular individual for this heinous torture and torching of a person that resulted in death, and the judge took it away, because he looked at the entire state picture that the state required. >> when we come back, self prohibition, if limitations on excuses continue, if you're likely to be executed for the same crime or not depending on where you commit it, and if states continue to spend a fortune on death row, are americans inching closer to not using the ultimate punishment at all? stay with us.
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>> welcome back to inside story on al jazeera america. i'm ray suarez.
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executing the mentally disabled this time on the program, and the declining use of the death penalty overall. still with us, richard dieter, and george parnum, criminal defense lawyer, and charles sti mpson at the her stage moun heritage foundation, is america at least the legal system, the machinery, falling out of love with the death penalty? >> i think that's accurate. we had a 75% drop in death sentences, and a 60% drop on executions. this year only 7 of our 50 states carried out an execution. so for 43 states its sort of irrelevant whether we have the death penalty or not.
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that's not an usual tool of the judicial. why are we doing it? that's the question that people would like to have answered. >> earlier in the program you noted that the american public still approves of the death penalty, but it's not as big of a majority that it used to be. >> no, it started in 1934, and it has risen to 80% after the oklahoma city bombing. what's interesting, it averages around 60%, richard could correct me, but it averages around 60%. but the americans support death penalty in appropriate cases. boston, where i went to school for a summer at harvard, you know, a lot of liberal folks. a lot of my friends were
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liberals. the tsarnaev brothers bomb the marathon in boston, and now it's supported. >> whein texas the public appetite for the ultimate sanction is waynein waning. >> yes, in discussions with my friends and colleagues, i sense that there is an ever so slight movement to somebody key is it the setaway from the death penalty because we have life without parole in the state of texas.
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but i must say that if, in fact, the states do away with the death penalty, i'm certain that texas will be the last. i find it very ironic that scott panetti was passed for execution by the board of pardons and parolees. that the governor of the state of texas was silent, even at the 11th hour, when scott panetti was going to be transferred to the death chamber for execution, it took the fifth circuit to step in and basically slap the hands of the state of texas. i just don't see texas coming around so quistly--so swiftly, although that is something that should be done. >> should there be more public confidence in the use of capital
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punishment if some of these variables weren't there, inadequacy of defense, depravity of the particular client as a variable rather than the depravity of the crime. >> in a perfect world you would have competent clients, you would have outstanding represe representation like george, and you would have appellate process that would work efficiently. that's not the world that exis exists. but we have the best judicial system in the world. it's not perfect by far. of thes to reform laws narrow the class of cases where people can be eligible for the death penalty, increasing the amount of money for public defenders and others who can represent people, making sure that the defense has adequate resources
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to investigate the case. things like that improve the criminal justice system over time. i think the fact that the numbers have gone down recently, i don't take the short view of this. i invest in the stock market just like everyone else, i look at the 5, 10-, 15-rolling average. the american people have a way to change that, and they can through their elected representatives take the death penalty off the table in the 32 states, and in the military, if they choose to do that. >> before we go, this lack of uniformity, could this bring it back in the arena to clarify what they meant in the ruling? >> when it's random, hard to predict, that's unconstitution because it's an abuse of power.
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you have to have a clear cause and effect, a reason for executing people. with 35 executions in the country of 14,000 murders and 300 million people there is no relationship. i think the court is growing impatient with the death penalty. i don't think they're at the point of apolishing it yet. i don't think we have to wait for texas to abolish it. i think at some point the court is going to inter convenient. >> that bring us to the end of this edition of "inside story." thank you for joining us. we want to hear what you think about this or any day's show. log on to our facebook page. send us your thoughts on twitter. our handle is aj inside story am. or you can reach me directly or follow me @ray suarez news. we'll see you for the next edition. from washington, i'm ray suarez.
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the author of why women have it all. >> i don't think it's possible to have everything. i could we can't get to a better balance for women and men. >> she was the first woman to head policy planning for the u.s. state department but left her work in washington for her debate. >> i just realized i was going to miss the last two years my older son was in high school. there is plenty of time to have

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