This paper shall examine and qualify the issues surrounding the imposition of the death penalty onto the mentally retarded and the mentally ill. Within this paper, the phrase mentally ill shall be applied to those who are of normal intelligence yet who suffer from mannerisms or behaviors that alter their perceptions. The phrase mentally retarded shall be applied to individuals who suffer from conditions that result in lower intelligence and comprehension levels. This issue is loaded in terms of issues surrounding the morality of the situation: The fundamental question at stake within this particular issue is whether or not the mentally ill and the mentally retarded can be punished in the same manner as those who commit the same crimes and are considered to be of normal mental stability and functionality. .
This argument therefore is expressed within two distinct factions: The first faction consists of those who endorse the death penalty as a measure of punishment for the same types of crimes, regardless as to the mental state of whomever commits the crime. There are many reasons for this rationalization, and these reasons shall be addressed at a later point within this paper. Conversely, the opposition to this position consists of those who suggest that the death penalty cannot be applied to the mentally ill and the mentally retarded, as the death penalty is primarily supposed to be a deterrent from immoral behaviors and this can therefore not be applied to those who are mentally incapacitated.
This paper shall examine both positions to this argument, with an additional focus on specific cases where the individual who is or has been on trial for the death penalty suffered from a serious form of mental illness or mental retardation. This paper shall first concentrate on the issues of criminal culpability for those who are perceived as being mentally ill and mentally retarded, where the decision to prosecute a mentally ill or a mentally retarded defendant might not lie within the overall severity of the crime committed but instead focus on the general state of awareness that the perpetrator has when committing the crime.