I know that a lot of people look forward to the Labor Day weekend, a nice extended weekend. I know some people like to take Friday off as well and go out to the lake with their families. Sounds like a nice day. Or you could work for the federal public defender.
Because Stephen Ferrell will certainly not be relaxing this weekend, because the state of Tennessee is trying to kill Daryl Holton. Holton, as you probably know, is a severely mentally ill man on Tennessee’s death row, who has refused to continue his appeals. But that’s not what I came here to talk about.
Instead I want to talk about a ruined labor day weekend.
You see, U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips has ordered that an independent expert, Dr. Bruce Seidner, evaluate Holton. Sounds reasonable enough, right? Judge Phillips has ordered that Seidner present his findings at a hearing on Tuesday September 5th. Still not too bad right? Wrong! Because guess when Dr. Seidner will have completed his evaluation. Friday September 1st!
That’s right, the federal defenders (and the state counsel for that matter) will have only Labor Day weekend to examine Dr. Seidner’s evaluation, have it examined by their own experts to ensure that the conclusions are valid, and prepare arguments for a hearing on the 5th with a man’s life hanging in the balance.
With 4 in 5 death row inmates suffering from some form of mental illness, our legal system needs to take the issue of competency seriously. The competency standards in our current laws have barely changed in a century, while our understanding of mental illness has advanced considerably in the same time. When we add to this the fact that our legal system still refuses to take challenges, even under the ridiculous current threshold seriously (by, say, giving appellate attorneys only a holiday weekend to respond to an evaluation) we target the mentally ill for execution. Daryl Holton’s case is just the latest sad example of a tragic system at work.
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