Law Enforcement Officials Sign-On Letter in Support of Protecting People with Serious Mental Illness from the Death Penalty
To Governor DeSantis and Members of the Florida Legislature,
We are current or former members of the law enforcement community. As prosecutors, judges, police officials, and correctional staff, we are committed to keeping Florida safe.
It is because of this commitment that we cannot support the death penalty for persons with serious mental illness. Though we hold varying views on the death penalty – some of us support it, others do not – we agree that the death penalty is not an appropriate punishment for cases involving defendants with serious mental illness.
Serious mental illness interferes with a person’s ability to make rational decisions and to conform his or her conduct to the law. Individuals deemed seriously mentally ill also have impaired capacity to fully appreciate the wrongful nature of their actions.
The use of death penalty in cases involving people with serious mental illness is not an appropriate or effective way to reduce violent crime. According to a major study by the National Academy of Sciences, there is no valid evidence that the death penalty deters violence more than a life sentence. We believe this is especially true for defendants with serious mental illness, many of whom commit crime while experiencing extreme symptoms caused by their condition.
People with serious mental illness are more vulnerable within the criminal justice system and are more likely to confess to something they didn’t do. They are also less likely to understand or participate in the legal process.
The death penalty wastes valuable resources that could go toward addressing mental health, trauma, and addiction outside of the justice system. Because serious mental illness is not always raised or acknowledged in the initial phase of a capital trial, it is often raised on appeal, causing delays and additional expenses for the state and county. Florida taxpayers would save millions of dollars each year if people with serious mental illness were exempt from the death penalty. At the same time, there is a great need for mental health and trauma services in our communities.
As current or former members of the law enforcement community, we believe violence is a substantial problem demanding serious and effective solutions and evidence-based public safety measures, including policies that prioritize mental health and drug treatment.
Protecting people with serious mental illness from the death penalty on a case-by-case basis would allign the current law with society’s evolved understanding of mental illness as a serious disease. The legislation would still allow people with serious mental illness to be held accountable if found guilty, and appropriately sentenced.
We join with with the more than 70 organizations from across Florida, including more than a dozen mental health organizations, that are urging the Florida State Legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign bipartisan legislation to protect people with serious mental illness from the death penalty.