Ten percent of death-row prisoners are veterans, and some of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, a recent study has shown.
Research was conducted by the Death Penalty Information Center, whose stance is firmly against capital punishment, but whose objective findings have been used by supporters of both viewpoints across the years.
The non-profit organization which disseminates information about the death penalty collected data from American states where around half of the death row inmates are being detained.
As evidenced by the report titled “Battle Scars: Military Veterans and the Death Penalty”, it appears that approximately 300 of the 3,000 people in the United States who are awaiting execution are war veterans.
Also, a large number of them are affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), after having fought in the Gulf, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Korean wars.
Researchers believe that defense attorneys don’t inform themselves regarding the fact that their clients are military veterans who might actually suffer from PTSD. This lack of preoccupation for such potential extenuating circumstances is also shared by judges, governors, prosecutors and jury panels.
For instance, back in January, Andrew Brannan, a decorated Vietnam veteran who had been considered as 100% disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs as a result of his PTSD and bipolar disorder, was executed by lethal injection for killing a sheriff deputy in 1998.
Similarly, Courtney Lockhart, who had PTSD after having been deployed for 16 months in Iraq, was also put on the death row, because he had robbed and killed a college student in 2008.
On the other hand, a Korean War veteran with the same condition had his death sentence commuted by the Supreme Court in 2009, after it was discovered that his lawyer hadn’t looked into his traumatic war experiences.
As the National Institutes of Health has revealed, around 31% of those who have served in the Vietnam War and 12% of those who were enlisted in the Gulf War are affected by PTSD. Also, the condition is present among 11 to 20% of those who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Having this anxiety disorder following harrowing events like those experienced during warfare might be used in court as an argument against the death penalty.
Post-traumatic stress disorder left untreated can result in major personality changes, heightened levels of stress and tension, irrepressible anger, paranoia, irrational fears and psychotic episodes.
People are so emotionally and mentally perturbed by the destruction they have witnessed that their behavior can sometimes become unrecognizable and unusually vicious.
On the other hand, Kent Schneiddiger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, an organization which condones capital punishment, argues that normally PTSD doesn’t result in violent acts, and overly grievous acts have to be justly penalized, irrespective of mental afflictions.
However, there are already other categories of individuals who can’t be executed no matter how gruesome their acts might have been. These include people with people with mental disability, who under the Atkins v. Virginia ruling are considered to be too intellectually incapacitated to be on the death row.
The Eighth Amendment forbids cruel and unusual punishments, and these cover those administered to people affected by mental retardation (an IQ score below 70, coupled with other functional deficits).
Similarly, the Supreme Court has also banned the execution of perpetrators under the age of 18, following the Roper v. Simmons case in 2005, citing the same Eighth Amendment.
According to study author Richard Dieter, the same principle could be applied to war veterans as well, but the Justice Department and the Defense Department aren’t preoccupied with statistics related to these individuals who are facing capital punishment.
The number of verdicts awarding death sentence has been declining in the last 15 years, just 73 of those having been issued in 2014, the lowest incidence since 1977, when capital punishment was reinstated in the United States.
This might be because of costly and lengthy lawsuits and appeals, especially when convicted criminals have been affected by mental disorders or retardation.
Image Source: Pixabay