The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that dementia may be enough of a mental disability to save someone from being executed.
The justices, in a 5-3 ruling, told Alabama to go back and reconsider the death sentence for Vernon Madison, who was convicted of killing a police officer in 1985.
Madison suffered a series of strokes while incarcerated, which left him with confusion and no memory of his crime. His attorney argued to the high court he is now mentally incompetent and therefore, the state cannot execute him without violating the Eighth Amendment.
Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the court, agreed that dementia could qualify as enough of a disability to save him from execution, if he can’t connect the crime with the punishment.
“That mental condition can cause such disorientation and cognitive decline as to prevent a person from sustaining a rational understanding of why the state wants to execute him,” she wrote.
Alabama argued previous rulings only barred executions for people suffering from gross delusions, and said Madison did not suffer from any of those.
But the court said Alabama needed to determine the extent of Madison’s dementia and whether it allows him to rationally understand why he faces execution.
Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh did not take part in the ruling.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., joined by Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Justice Clarence Thomas, dissented. They said Madison’s lawyer had gamed the appeals system, originally arguing one Eighth Amendment claim about executing someone who cannot remember the crime, then switching to argue the constitutionality of killing an inmate with dementia.
“Counsel’s tactics flagrantly flouted our rules. Our rules make it clear that we grant certiorari to decide the specific question or questions of law set out in a petition for certiorari,” the dissent argued.
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