The American Bar Association, and its Death Penalty Due Process Review Project, has partnered with the Tennessee Alliance for the Severe Mental Illness Exclusion (TASMIE), on production of a film titled “Too Ill to Execute,” detailing a movement to exclude those with severe mental illness from the death penalty.
The 32-minute film features the stories of persons directly affected by mental illness and the death penalty, medical and legal experts and Tennessee State Senator Richard Briggs, sponsor of Tennessee’s legislation on the issue. The film premieres to the public today and is designed to spark conversation in statehouses, relevant non-profit organizations, faith communities and the media.
The movie can be accessed on TASMIE’s website (www.tasmie.org/tooilltoexecute), which will link to the organization’s YouTube channel. It will be followed by an “Ask Me Anything” discussion on twitter. TASMIE will also provide a resource guide on its website with instructions on how churches, non-profit organizations and other groups can share the film.
The ABA has opposed the death penalty for people with severe mental illness since 2006. Working with the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and other experts, the ABA adopted a detailed policy opposing capital punishment for individuals with serious mental disorders or disabilities that were present either at the time of their crime or when they face execution. Such individuals would not be absolved of responsibility for their crimes. Rather, if found guilty, they could receive life in prison without parole.
A 2018 ABA cost analysis determined that implementation of an exemption for severe mental illness in Tennessee could save $1.4 million to $1.9 million a year.
The ABA does not take a position supporting or opposing the death penalty generally. It opposes capital punishment for those with severe mental illness based on the concept that execution of such individuals is no more justifiable than executing people with intellectual disabilities or juveniles, both of which have been ruled unconstitutional.