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Editorial contained false information

DEAR EDITOR:

We are responding to your June 23 editorial, “Law would create even more loopholes.” It included misinformation about bills in the Ohio Legislature that aim to exempt individuals with serious mental illness from execution.

As a former Ohio Supreme Court Justice and a physician practicing forensic psychiatry, we feel compelled to set the record straight.

Ohio’s HB136 passed by a vote of 76-18 because an overwhelming majority of representatives believe we should not execute people whose capacity for rational thought is diminished by serious mental illness. It states such individuals shall be sentenced to life in prison, thus protecting vulnerable citizens while holding those convicted accountable for their crimes, and protecting the public. The bill has been supported by legal experts, policy groups, treatment advocacy groups and mental health organizations, with only one opponent, the Ohio Prosecuting Attorney’s Association.

The editorial included the following false claims.

CLAIM: The court system and appeals process contain years’ worth of options allowing defendants to challenge their criminal conviction based on mental capacity at the time of the crime.

FACT: In Ohio there is currently no legal mechanism for courts to consider diminished capacity due to serious mental illness at the time of a capital crime. Atkins claims address Intellectual Disability exclusively, not serious mental illness.

CLAIM: Offering a new appeal option for death row inmates will all but guarantee every one of the 138 killers on Ohio’s death row will initiate new appeals.

FACT: Only 5 to 10 percent, or 10 to 13 inmates, of Ohio’s death row could possibly qualify for exemption.

CLAIM: The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association suggests the bill is so broad it “effectively ends the death penalty” in Ohio.

FACT: The bill would only allow a very narrow set of individuals with both serious mental illness and diminished capacity to seek exemption from execution.

CLAIM: For a “25- to 30-year-old criminal case, witnesses are gone and trying to determine the mental state of the defendant at the time” could be impossible.

FACT: The bill states the burden of proof of serious mental illness at the time of the crime falls upon the defendant. Therefore, if there is no evidence, an inmate will be unable to seek exemption. “Impossible” cases will not move forward.

CLAIM: No new loopholes are needed for additional hearings or defenses on mental health issues in which protections for defendants already exist.

FACT: It is well-established in the legal and psychiatric literature that individuals with serious mental illness do not have adequate protections in the legal system. This legislation is not a loophole but a recognition that Atkins’ principles apply to individuals with serious mental illness.

It is time for Ohio to pass this legislation.

EVELYN LUNDBERG STRATTON

Retired Ohio Supreme Court Justice

MEGAN TESTA, MD

Forensic and Community

Psychiatrist

Ohio Psychiatric Physicians Association

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