Subscribe to receive our Floor Reports covering all the action on the Texas House and Senate floor!
Relating to the applicability of the death penalty to a capital offense committed by a person with severe mental illness.
No significant fiscal implication to the State is anticipated.
HB 1936 would prohibit a defendant, who at the time of the commission of a capital offense had a severe mental illness, from being sentenced to death. This would include a person suffering from schizophrenia, a schizoaffective disorder, or a bipolar disorder and, as a result of that disorder, has active psychotic symptoms that substantially impair the person's capacity to appreciate the nature, consequences, or wrongfulness of the person's conduct, or exercise rational judgment in relation to the person's conduct.
At least 30 days before trial, a defendant would be required to file a notice with the court of the defendant's intention to offer evidence of a severe mental illness at the time of the commission of the alleged offense. The issue of whether the defendant was a person with severe mental illness at the time of the commission of the alleged offense would be submitted to a jury only if the issue is supported by evidence and requires the jury to return a special verdict on the issue. The defendant must prove this by clear and convincing evidence.
The judge would be required to appoint a disinterested expert experienced and qualified in the field of diagnosing mental illness to examine the defendant and determine whether the defendant is a person with severe mental illness. The judge may order the defendant to submit to such examination. Any statements made by the defendant during the examination would be prohibited from being admitted into evidence at trial.
This bill would exempt the defendant from procedural requirements for a capital case if the jury determines that the defendant was a person with severe mental illness at the time of the commission of an alleged capital offense, and if the defendant is convicted, the judge would be required to sentence the defendant to imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for life without parole.
Texas Action supports HB 1936 because it advances the principle of limited government. Providing an effective criminal justice system is a proper role of limited government, and part of an effective criminal justice system is ensuring that the punishment is proportional to the offense. An individual who lacks the mental capacity to comprehend the nature of a capital offense should not be punished in the same manner as someone with sufficient mental capability who understands their crime.