North Carolina House of Representatives Passes Bill Exempting People with Mental Illness from Capital Punishment

Last week the North Carolina House of Representatives passed a bill that will keep people with severe and persistent mental illness off death row. The bill, according to sponsor Sarah Stevens, states that if “someone has a severe mental disability they shall not receive capital punishment.” For defendants to meet the requirements outlined in the bill, they must have a documented history of mental illness prior to committing the crime.  Representative Rick Glazier emphasized this point, arguing, “the important thing to summarize is this is not the person who comes in and who is slightly depressed or ate a package of Twinkies that day and got a sugar high. This is the person who has the severe pervasive mental disability. The defense has the burden of proof to show and to ultimately prove to the jury or judge by clear convincing evidence that the mental disability manifested some time prior to the act.” Defendants who are found to have a history of mental illness can still be found guilty and are only exempted from capital punishment. Proponents of the bill also argue that, if enacted, the new law will save the North Carolina Department of Justice from subsequent appeals that are the norm when mental health becomes a factor in trials. Such appeals cost the state roughly $10,080 per hearing. Having passed in the House of Representatives, the bill will now be taken up in the Senate.

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