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Support HB 145: End the Death Penalty for Severely Mentally Ill Persons06 Feb

Choose LifeThe Catholic Conference has repeatedly called for the replacement of the death penalty with lengthy prison terms, including life without parole, for all defendants. Until lawmakers heed this call, the Conference has supported limiting the use of the death penalty in Kentucky. In 1992 the Conference was successful in ending the use of the death penalty in cases where courts determined a defendant is a mentally disabled person. Now the Conference is hoping to see the use of the death penalty ended when defendants can prove to a court that they suffer from a severe mental illness that was active at the time of the crime.

ACTION: Thousands of Kentuckians, especially those associated with the Kentucky Mental Health Coalition and with the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Kentucky, have written postcards asking Chairman John Tilley to hear House Bill 145 in his House Judiciary Committee.

Join your voice to theirs by calling 1-800-372-7181 and leaving a message for Rep. Tilley and for your own State Representative asking that they do everything they can to bring HB 145 to the House floor for a vote.

WHY IS THE BILL NEEDED?

  • The death penalty cannot deter someone who cannot understand the consequences of his/her actions; and
  • Because of their diminished capacity severely mentally ill persons should be treated in ways similar to others who have that same standing, e.g., persons with mental retardation or those under 18 at the time the crime is committed.

In December 2011, a report prepared by a group of Kentucky’s distinguished jurists, legal scholars, and practitioners and issued by the American Bar Association found significant flaws in our capital sentencing process and made several unanimous recommendations. One of these was that Kentucky should end the use of the death penalty for severely mentally ill persons.

TO WHOM DOES HB 145 APPLY?

The proposed legislation, HB 145, is narrow in its application and applies only after a judge determines the following conditions have been met:

  • A defendant is severely mentally ill;
  • The severe mental illness was active at the time the crime was committed; and
  • The crime in question was committed after the effective date of the act.

TO WHOM DOES HB 145 NOT APPLY?

HB 145 is narrowly drafted and does not apply to the following persons:

  • Individuals currently sentenced to death and awaiting execution; or
  • Persons whose actions are attributable solely to the intentional use of alcohol or other drugs.

HOW WILL IT WORK IN THE COURTROOM?

As proposed, HB 145 would call for a hearing before trial, during which a judge would be presented evidence by the prosecution and the defense regarding the issue of severe mental illness. If the judge finds that the defendant meets the criteria set forth in this bill – the defendant has a severe mental illness that was active when the crime was committed – then the judge will order that the death penalty is excluded from consideration by a jury.

HOW WILL A GUILTY DEFENDANT BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE?

All other penalties for capital murder are still available, including life without parole. This assures the guilty are punished and Kentuckians’ safety is secured.

Resources on the Death Penalty

The Catholic Conference is a member of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and also works with the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Use of the Death Penalty. Factual information is available from the Death Penalty Information Center. And the Conference has published pastoral letters on this issue and other issues regarding the protection of human life.

ACTION: Call 1-800-372-7181 and leave a message for Rep. Tilley and for your own State Representative asking that they do everything they can to bring HB 145 to the House floor for a vote.

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