FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Tuesday, March 30, 2021 CONTACT: Mark Elliott, FADP Director, (727) 215-9646, [email protected]
TAMPA, FL – Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (FADP) applauds the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee for its unanimous yes vote on SB 1156, exempting those with serious mental illness from execution. The bill is sponsored by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-24) who along with Florida mental health professionals, is leading the effort to exempt the seriously mentally ill from the death penalty.
SB 1156, which is supported by the Florida Mental Health Advocacy Coalition, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Bar Association, exempts capital defendants from death if at the time of the crime they had a serious mental illness that significantly impaired their capacity to exercise rational judgments in relation to their conduct, to conform their conduct to the requirements of the law, or to appreciate the nature, consequences, or wrongfulness of their conduct. The proposed bill does not preclude a guilty verdict and does not affect a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
FADP’s Executive Director Mark Elliott called the bill, “a much needed reform that recognizes that the complex death penalty process, with its weighing of mitigating and aggravating factors, fails to ensure that serious mental illness is appropriately considered.”
Dr. Joseph Thorton, Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, former Medical Executive Director Union Correctional Institution and Death Row, and an FADP board member, called the bill, “a common sense step”, explaining, “Those who commit violent crimes while suffering a disabling mental illness are as a group less culpable. They are also uniquely vulnerable to wrongful convictions because of stigmas, including about future dangerousness. And, they can’t fully participate in their own defense.” Dr. Thornton adds, “Persons with untreated mental illness account for less than 5% of violent acts and people with treated mental illness have violence rates in line with the general population.”
Elliott noted that polls show broad support for exempting the seriously mentally ill from the death penalty.1 He added, “From our experience, most Floridians believe this reform is already in place. People are shocked when they realize Florida still sentences seriously mentally ill persons to death.”
Elliott said his group’s membership list has been “growing substantially” as support for the death penalty declines in Florida and nationally. “We’ve learned a lot about the death penalty in Florida since the current law was passed in 1972 Even those with no moral objection to the death penalty are concluding that it’s just not worth the risks and costs, in both human and financial terms.”
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (FADP) is a statewide grassroots group working to end to the death penalty in Florida. Our network includes dozens of state and local groups and thousands of individual Floridians, including murder victims’ family members and other survivors of violent crime, law enforcement professionals, families of the incarcerated, and death row exonorees.
1. According to a December 1, 2014 poll by Public Policy Polling, Americans oppose the death penalty for persons with mental illness by a margin of 2 to 1.
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty www.fadp.org