Panetti v. Quarterman: Mental Illness, the Death Penalty, and Human Dignity
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
My assignment is to comment on the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Panetti v. Quarterman, holding that a delusional mentally ill prisoner who is aware that the State intends to execute him based on his conviction for a capital crime is not, based on that finding alone, competent for execution under the Eighth Amendment. In so doing, the Court rejected the contrary position taken by the Fifth Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings. Does this obscure ruling carry any freight? It has all the earmarks of a one-off end-of-term decision with little significance for anyone other than a few very ill condemned prisoners: it deals with an issue that arises rarely, is doctrinally narrow, and has little connection with other domains of criminal or constitutional jurisprudence.