The Eugenics of the Death Penalty

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  1. FWIW, this was a really good post, Saul.Report

  2. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I don’t know the details of the original trial proceedings, so forgive me if the answers to these questions are rather obvious…

    1.) How do we know that Panetti has a mental illness?
    2.) Did Panetti raise an affirmative defense regarding his mental illness?
    3.) If he didn’t — if he doesn’t believe he has a mental illness or doesn’t feel the mental illness contributed to his actions — is it right for us to do so on his behalf?

    For the record, I am opposed to the death penalty full stop. I am not seeking to justify Texas’ actions. Rather, I’m trying to understand some broader issues with how our criminal justice system deals with mental illness.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

      To 1.) He’s been diagnosed, and hospitalized, many times (something like 12 hospitalizations) for mental illness. And that’s pre-murder. He has schizophrenia.

      2.) He represented himself, dressed as a cowboy, and tried to call the Pope and JFK as witnesses.

      3.) That’s a more difficult question, though whether to execute a man who is clearly has difficulty telling what’s real from what’s entirely in his head is not a difficult quesiton.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

        Thanks, @chris .

        Regarding #2, if he does not raise an affirmative defense or otherwise offer evidence of his mental illness ASIDE from acting like a mentally ill person, can the court (and more importantly, the jury) consider it? This isn’t a “should” question but a “can” question based on how the laws are actually written.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Chris says:

        I’m certain Widows and Orphans Court has proper procedures for “how do we deal with someone mentally incapable of representing themselves” (as it’s gotta come up frequently, with strokes and dementia and all).

        I’m not so sure about CriminalReport

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        That’s definitely a question for the lawyers. I mean, there must be some recourse for the state when a person is so obviously severely mentally ill. That’s only reasonable, right? But this is Texas, so reasonable doesn’t have a lot to do with it.Report

      • Avatar Robert Greer in reply to Chris says:

        If a litigant is mentally ill, usually a guardian “ad litem” (i.e., for the purposes of the litigation) will be appointed — that is, if the litigant doesn’t already have some kind of guardian, which is not terribly uncommon.

        I don’t know a lick of Texas law, but I’m flabbergasted that this guy was allowed to represent himself. I know there’s generally a strong presumption of letting people proceed pro se, but you’d think there’d be some rulings that people with prior mental health diagnoses aren’t allowed to represent themselves on capital fucking murder charges.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Chris says:

        I’m not sure I’d go that far. Someone with decent medicine can be a normal person, capable of representing themselves. But, um, dude, this guy clearly wasn’t that. The judge should have sent him for a mental evaluation shortly after he tried to call Jesus Christ as a witness.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Kazzy says:

      I think the idea is to get him into “good treatment” rather than “bad treatment”. And simply killing the dude is removing someone from society who might be “mostly functional” with some supervision and help getting his medication. (it’s my recollection that schizophrenics have some trouble staying on medication without help).Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

      We’ve mostly abandoned the concept of mens rea for people who aren’t police officers. We might keep it around to help distinguish between 1st and 2nd degrees of various crimes, but…

      Anyway, the general attitude is that if someone is more like a rabid dog than a moral agent who made the wrong decision, that doesn’t detract from the appropriateness of the death penalty. If anything, it adds to it.

      (For the record, I’m pretty much opposed to the state dishing out the death penalty myself.)Report

  3. Avatar Chris says:

    I also wonder if people really care about the fact that Panetti is seriously mentally ill. The United States has a problem with treating the mentally ill. We have a seemingly large number of mentally ill people and no desire to do anything about getting them treatment. San Francisco launched a series of lawsuits against neighbor states because their solution to mentally ill homeless people was a one-way bus ticket to San Francisco. A few years ago New York City had some instances where people would be pushed to their deaths on subway tracks. Subway Pushers tend to be homeless and mentally ill. If you live in San Francisco long enough, you generally know someone who was randomly attacked by a mentally ill person. I once got off a bus to have a mentally ill person run up behind me and scream very loudly in my ear on Market Street. I’m just lucky she didn’t decide to bite it off. A friend of a friend was the victim of a biting attack by a mentally ill person while doing laundry at a laundromat.

    There is little in this paragraph that is not problematic. I have no doubt that there are a lot of mentally ill people in San Francisco. However, I also have no doubt that the vast majority of them are nonviolent, and that you are much more likely to be assaulted by a person who is not mentally ill, or at least not as severely mentally ill as the people you describe (that is, by a person whose mentally illness is not severe enough for them to end up wholly on the street, incapable of functioning as a member of society). You weren’t “lucky” that your ear wasn’t bitten, because it’s highly unlikely that a mentally ill person will bite you. That you know someone who was bitten doesn’t change that fact.

    With advocates like you…Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

      By the way, Austin has a fairly large population of severely mentally ill people, in part because the state hospital is located here, and in part because it has a large homeless population (the incidence of mental illness among the homeless is really high). Because of where I spend much of my time, and because I ride the bus, I have, for the last 15 years, spent a lot of time being around and interacting with severely mentally ill people, much more time than you have I suspect. I’ve been yelled at a few times, and my son is still traumatized from a time a woman yelled at him at a bus on campus (he was 7 or 8), but I have never been attacked, and have never feared being attacked. I’m more wary around addicts (addiction is a common outcome of mental illness, of course), but even most addicts aren’t dangerous.

      The stereotype of violent crazy people is as damaging as it is persistent, and a digression about your experience, first and nth-hand, of mentally ill people on the streets of San Francisco in a post about a man who committed murder is…Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

      Reason printed a comic of Peter Bagge’s talking about the homeless problem in San Francisco.

      Reading these comments, I thought of it.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

      I was never afraid of the homeless people I encountered in NYC, Boston, or DC. I always reasoned that there was a pretty powerful “filtering” effect with regards to the violently ill. I don’t think you last long on the streets if you are mentally ill and violent: either you end up getting yourself killed or you are institutionalized. The system isn’t perfect, but my gut always told me that panhandler or the guy sleeping on the bench didn’t pose a threat.

      That doesn’t mean no one is ever harmed by a mentally ill person. In October, my friend was attacked while waiting for the T by a mentally ill woman with a corkscrew. This woman had a history of violence but appears to be an exception in how she was able to slip through the cracks. And while I do not fault my friend for choosing not to ride the T for the foreseeable future, this is more of an emotional response to trauma than it is a rational reassessment of risk.

      Violent attacks by the mentally ill tend to be more sensational in nature, in part because those of us who are more or less mentally healthy can’t identify or empathize with their actions or the motivations behind them. We understand how someone can get drunk and violent. We might be able to say we’d never commit road rage but we’ve certainly “been there” before. Most of us have experienced emotional pain of the sort that leads to so-called “crimes of passion”. But seemingly senseless acts of violence… well the mere fact that we call them senseless indicates we are incapable of understanding them. I’d venture to guess they do not seem senseless from the perspective of the attacker.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Kazzy says:

        When I lived in Seattle, all the homeless I encountered was very polite. I seem to recall there was a “aggressive panhandling” law in effect then too.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

        Austin has an aggresive panhandling ordinance, but because of some really poor decisions by the city, it has been impossible to enforce it. Instead, they pretty aggressively enforce vagrancy ordinances in certain parts of town (when I took a bus from the South of town, I had to travel all the way up Congress Avenue at around 7 in the morning, and saw homeless people being arrested almost every day — get ’em out of the way before the money shows up). This doesn’t solve any real problems, but it makes the city look cleaner if you’re just passing through downtown.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Kazzy says:

        it definitely says something about a town when you’re up at 8am, and you see people sleeping in doorways and otherwise just being homeless, not two blocks from the swanky tourist areas. (San Diego, case you’re curious).

        I’m not saying that the homeless should be run out of town, or anything… but there are levels of dysfunction that appear to my novice eye… to be unprofitable.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        It was interesting to notice the different “culture” among the homeless in different cities. In Boston, I didn’t see too many homeless (though I went to school on the outskirts of town and didn’t spend too much time downtown); I always chalked this up to the long, frigid winters. NYC’s homeless tended to come in one of two varieties: quiet panhandlers hoping only to be noticed enough to collect some change or the loud people who wanted everyone here what they had to shout; the former far outnumbered the latter. In DC, the homeless seemed to try to earn their keep. They’d hold open doors, offer directions, things like that.

        I don’t know how this all came to pass but it was interesting to note.

        An interesting tidbit I noticed outside a NYC church: the regular church sign (the type the Simpsons always lampooned) said, “These doors are open for all”; but the other sign… the one nailed to all the doors said, “No loitering or sleeping.” Hmmmm…?Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Kazzy says:


        I, too, have noticed different “cultures” among homeless or panhandlers, or at least different cultures as they’re presented to me, the one who obviously has some means to do something. In Chicago, they tend to give very long stories, in what seems like an attempt to draw me in or wear me down until I just want to give them money to stop talking. Also, they seem to be playing on people’s sense that it’s rude just to walk away from someone. Finally, in Chicago, they tend to ask for an odd amount, like $1.79. In Denver, from my recollection, the tendency seems to be a more direct request but in a vague amount, like “can you spare any change.”

        Others’ mileage varies for these cities, of course. And I feel at least a little inconsiderate talking about these “cultures” because I much better off.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

        I have a few acquaintances who used to hold signs at intersections. It’s different from panhandling by approaching pedestrians, but they spoke of a culture, with somewhat strict rules, that did vary from place to place.Report

      • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Kazzy says:

        I get hit up on a lot in truck stops. I guess we’re seen as a target-rich environment. I don’t know that these count as geographical cultures since I’ve never tried to correlate them that way, but there are a certain limited set of tactics.

        The most common is to beg for “gas money”. Plausible given the location and implies a temporary situation. May even occasionally be true but probably not often.

        Then you got salesmen hawking… whatever. Jewelry, DVDs, maybe stolen, maybe not.

        Finally you got your service providers. Polishing wheels and chrome is popular and legitimate enough to count as a genuine business. Prostitutes, of course, which overall I really don’t mind so much since they’re actually the most honest and straightforward of the bunch about what they’re doing and take “no” most graciously. The odd ones are the women offering to “clean your cab”. I have to assume they’re really hookers since I’ve yet to see one carrying cleaning supplies.

        How many of the above are homeless I couldn’t say but I’m certain some at least.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kazzy says:

        My experience in Atlanta was that they hit you with a lot of southern charm, welcoming an obvious Yankee to their city, offer you directions if you look a bit lost (which you will since every street is Peach something-or-other), and only then ask you for money. It’s very hard to say no after they’ve treated you like a guest in their home.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers in reply to Kazzy says:


        I get hit up on a lot in truck stops

        Umm, you mean for money, right?Report

  4. Avatar j r says:

    With advocates like you…

    This is part of the problem, isn’t it?

    From what I know about San Francisco, it has a significant population of wealthy progressives who generally like to think of themselves as good people, so, being progressives, they fund lots of municipal services for the poor. However, also being progressives (I kid… sort of), they don’t spend much time or energy monitoring and evaluating those services. This is somewhat the political equivalent of, “I gave at the office.”Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to j r says:

      Yes, exactly. When I typed that, what was going through my mind is, “This is why liberals suck.”Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Chris says:

        At least this liberal writes what he believes…Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        I don’t think you want me to do so, really.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Chris says:


        I would actually be interested to see what you believe. Not because I expect to agree with it. I expect I will disagree with most of it. As far as I know, you might wish for people like me to be erased from existence.

        But what I am tired of is the constant coyness you have where you write things like “I don’t think you want me to do so, really.” Or about how only your mother would be interested in what you believe but it would scare your mother.

        So this allows you to be coy and have it both ways. You can tell me and others that I am a myopic, sucky liberal and maintain the illusion that most people would agree with you instead of thinking you were way out their in your beliefs….

        And frankly that pisses me off and makes you very cowardly.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        But what I am tired of is the constant coyness you have where you write things like “I don’t think you want me to do so, really.” Or about how only your mother would be interested in what you believe but it would scare your mother.”

        Would scare your mother? What the hell?!

        So because I haven’t told you about my general political ideology*, you think I haven’t said what I think? I comment here pretty damn often, mostly expressing my views, some positive and some negative. If the fact that I haven’t self-identified with a label makes it impossible for you to understand me, I can’t help you.

        (I have, if you’d been paying attention: broadly pacifist and anti-war, anti-private property and anti-capitalism; I’ve been pretty up front about my discursive, which would mean relatively relativistic, ethics, the influence of the Frankfurt School, particularly Adorno and Marcuse on my thinking, Nietzsche and Heidegger, Freud and Marx, and so on, but I haven’t given myself label, so I guess you don’t know where to put me in your flat, linear typology.)Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Chris says:

        You’ve mentioned before about how you should write a “this is what I believe” post but the only person who would be interested is your mother and what you believe would scare her.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Oh yeah, I did write that once, and my mom is scared by the fact that I’m an atheist, dude.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Also, I wrote that as a joke. My mom wouldn’t be at all interested.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

        The most important thing to keep in mind here is not that you’re deeply bothered by the execution of a mentally ill person, or that you realize how poorly our criminal justice system deals with mentally ill defendants, but that your understanding of the mentally ill is imperfect and you are therefore a monster.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Thank you, James, for another charitable and nuanced interpretation of what I said.

        If it’s not clear, the “With advocates like you…” remark was meant to indicate that, sure, it’s nice that Saul wants more help for the mentally ill, and thinks (as most people do) that a schizophrenic guy who was completely disconnected from reality at the time he committed a crime should not be executed, but the “mentally ill people are violent” stereotype that he can’t help but bring up as though it were a fact that nearly cost him his ear, means that ultimately when it comes to the inadequacy of our mental health system, he’s part of the problem. That is, one of the major reasons why that system is so bad is that our culture is rife with stigma for the mentally ill, and here we have Saul, even as he seems to be advocating for the mentally ill, perpetuating the stigma.

        Clear as mud?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

        You’re welcome. I went to extra effort to be as charitable as you were.

        But, no, I’m afraid Im not smart enough to extrapolate that lengthy thesis from a truncated 1/2 clause. No doubt Saul is, though.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        James, that wasn’t the only sentence. It was preceded and then followed by several. If you chose not to read the others, that’s fine, but choosing to comment on that one sentence as though it were uttered all by itself is beneath you.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris says:


        Bluntly, I think you were being a dick to Saul.

        Not that I’m never a dick myself, but neither of us has immunity from being called on it.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Bluntly, James, you didn’t even read what I wrote, so I’m not sure why I should care what you think.

        That said, yeah, I was being a dick. And he earned it. Hell, the ellipses were me being nicer than I wanted to be, than I should have been.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

        @james-hanley @chris

        You guys are both dicks. Better?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

        you didn’t even read what I wrote,

        You’ve been making that claim a lot lately, so I guess it has to be true.

        And he earned it.

        Well, there’s nothing easier than excusing our own selves. And since we humans are so good at self-examination, there’s no doubt we’re always right to do so.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

        Sure. And I don’t there’s anything outrageous in you calling me out on it. That’s where, IMO, the problem lies–when someone tries to privilege their own dickishness.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris says:


        Really, I was just trying to break the tension with a bit of humor. We can all be dicks at times. You and @chris remain two of my favorite dicks on the internet. Wait a minute…Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers in reply to Chris says:


        We can all be dicks at times.

        We can? Thanks for the heads-up. I will be sure to bookmark this 😉Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris says:


        The internet is no place for humor.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to j r says:

      Judging by the number of times the FBI has shown up, we’re monitoring our civil servants pretty closely around here…Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to j r says:

      As a liberal who has worked with severely mentally ill people i say nuts to that. You’ll find plenty of those darn liberal types actually working for peanuts with all sorts of types other people wouldn’t associate with. Moreover funding trained people to work for services designed to help people is actually a good thing. In fact its far better to fund trained people then to make yourself feel good by giving some homeless guy a 20. More services and less preening and signaling.
      @chris Huh wah….nuts and double nuts.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to greginak says:

        Yeah, I actually thought of you, because I knew you’d done that work. Not all liberals are as myopic as Saul.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to greginak says:

        it’s been my general impression that the worst off of the homeless don’t panhandle.
        Can you comment?Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to greginak says:

        @kimmi When i worked with homeless and runaway teens a few of them would panhandle. Those were the really verbal and slicker kids who could put on a smile and sell themselves. While a lot of them were in harsh situations they had a lot of personality, nerve and more personal resources. The kids i worried about most were the ones who stayed in the shadows and were always skittish. They wouldn’t talk to anyone especially an adult, even the friendly ones, like us, from the local shelter. Those were the kids who usually far deeper in their own private hell and cut off from others.

        I think there is a similar dynamic in adult homeless. To panhandle well you have to be able to put with a lot of frustration, anger, hostility and also have a good pitch. Not that people who panhandle are doing great but it usually suggests to me they have some positive skills they can use. In any decent sized town there are homeless or addicts or mentally ill people who the regular world will never see. They live in their own places whether its shabby trailers or the parks or forests. They keep themselves away from most people out of a not unreasonable fear but also because of their own estrangement from the world.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to greginak says:

        “… but at least i know I’m free”
        I wonder how many of those kids lurking in the shadows actually could just go home? (note: not to say they might not get beaten for coming home, but… afterwards, they’d have a roof, and a cot, and 3 hots). I wonder for how many this is a real choice — that being at home was just simply something they couldn’t take.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to greginak says:

        @kimmi Certainly some could go home albeit to crappy, violent or dysfunctional homes. Some had no parents who were invovled so they would go into foster care or with relatives they had little connection to. Some had decent parents but were on their own track for various reasons to the streets.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to greginak says:

        Yes, lots of people, with political opinions all across the spectrum, do all sorts of good things. You will never find me arguing otherwise.

        My comment was about a specific situation that I understand exists in San Francisco regarding lots of money going to social services with almost no monitoring and evaluation. Maybe I’ve got it wrong and that money is being put to good use, but if it’s not and it’s actually making the homeless situation worse, then it fair game for criticism.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to greginak says:

        can you cite some links?
        the only thing I remember hearing about SF’s homeless was other places giving bus tickets to SF. Which makes sense when you realize that they were amputating people’s feet in other places. (it doesn’t get that cold in SF, so if we had to choose a place to put homeless, it’s better than Minneapolis).Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to greginak says:

        Here is the part that caught my attention:

        Despite its spending more money per capita on homelessness than any comparable city, its homeless problem is worse than any comparable city’s.


      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to greginak says:

        if most of what is in that article is true, it’s disgusting.
        In Pittsburgh, when the graft and the “you get a job because you know someone” shit happened, that was when the city was imploding. There were literal reasons why stuff turned bad.

        … and we’re working on cleaning it up now that the city’s in better health (witness the FBI showing up on a regular basis).Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to greginak says:


        I once had dinner with Joe Eshkenazi because he is a friend of my friend’s girlfriend.

        The article is many years old and could be changed. It could also be that S.F. has a large homeless population because of:

        1. A pretty liberal climate/spirit of 1967.

        2. Temperate weather year around for the most part.

        3. We have more services and word gets around.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to j r says:

      The internet is no place for humor, Kazzy.Report

  5. Avatar Mo says:

    How do you get them off the streets and care for them if they don’t want to be in a psychiatric hospital? We tried holding and treating the mentally ill for their own good before and that did not turn out well.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Mo says:

      You have outpatient care. you send a nurse into their home.
      the difficulty is when they’re “mostly functional” without medicine.
      (so they wont leave their home? they’re happy…)Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Mo says:


      I’d argue that we never really tried to treat them but just to remove the mentally ill and incapacitate them via lobomoties.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        The lobotomy, like electroshock therapy, was actually developed for humane purposes.
        (Chris, do you know if they’ve got better therapies for “sensory overload” nowadays? (that’s my term, don’t google)).

        Yeah, a lot of it was “lock people up and throw away the key” — but that’s different from “lobotomize everyone”.Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @saul-degraw Per Kimmi, it was believed to be a legitimate medical treatment to reduce mood swings and violent tendencies. That’s why people like Rosemary Kennedy got them. We look back on these treatments as barbaric because they are, but at the time, with our primitive understanding of the brain and psychiatry, we actually thought they were potentially effective treatments.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Yeah, and, to be fair, they were using Malaria to treat syphilis. Successfully.
        They actually did at least have reason for optimism.Report

  6. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    The federal 5th Circuit court stayed the execution just a bit ago.Report

  7. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Treating mental illness is expensive. Its beyond the means of most people as individuals or even most families as a cost. Its something that needs to be done as a public service and through taxes.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to LeeEsq says:

      If money was free, we’d all be rich!
      I’d personally rather see that we institutionalize the folks that are a danger to other people’s mental health, FIRST.Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Actually, you could make the argument that, as a public service, violent mentally ill folks should be executed. If only to save the public the cost of caring for them.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Damon says:

        I’m saving that argument for the rapists who are mentally deficient.
        Thanks though.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Damon says:

        There are people that make this argument. There are regimes that have attempted to carry this argument out. It turns out that humans aren’t really that good at playing God. Thinks always end up much more horribly that we imagine. Lots of people like to fantasize about themselves as the cool, logical enforcer of justice but emotions tend to get in the way. Paying for mental treatment out of tax dollars is much less taxing on the spirit.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Damon says:

        You could make the same argument about people who would make that first argument.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Damon says:


        And yet governments and people have, and ever will, attempt to play god, by directing the lives of millions of their fellow citizens, because they know better than the rubes, crave power, or whatever. How many hundreds of millions of people died for those lusts?Report

  8. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Our stigmatization of mental illness is a huge contributing factor. I will cop to having once been pretty unsympathetic to the mentally ill. Thankfully, I have progressed in this view. I don’t understand mental illness — either in general or specific illnesses — as much as I’d like, but I am at a place now where I can sympathize with and support others who may be struggling.

    I have a friend who has an anxiety disorder. She often refers to herself as “defective” or “damaged”. It pains me that she has internalized this mindset. I have another friend who probably has an anxiety disorder as well as some emotional instability but who refuses to seek treatment for it. She doesn’t want to feel as if she’s “broken”. Again, it troubles me that such a mindset has taken hold of her. It doesn’t surprise me, given broader societal views on the matter. But it is a shame that this is how we tend to think of such things. In talking with them about it, I’ve tried to analogize it to physical health issues. “If you broke your ankle, you’d go to a doctor, right? And you wouldn’t suddenly think of yourself as inherently and fully flawed as a person, right? You’d simply note that you have a health issue that is beyond your ability to manage on your own and you’ve sought the help of a profession in order to feel and be healthier.” I don’t know if this is a perfect mindset but it is damn better than what I used to think and hopefully one we can move more towards as a society.Report

  9. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I’m reading Destiny of the Republic right now, and can’t help but think of the deeply delusional Charles Guiteau. Nearly anyone who had contact with him came away with the understanding that he was mentally distressed, and medical science was reaching a point that mental illness was becoming recognized for what it was.

    The public was sharply divided about Guiteau. Nearly everyone recognized fairly quickly that the guy was simply not right in the head. Some people thought that the immoderate rhetoric of the Roscoe Conkling faction of the Republican Party had incited Guiteau to act violently, so Conkling and his minions (including Vice President Arthur) were partly to blame.

    Some people thought that it didn’t matter at all that Guiteau was mentally ill and thus not reliably morally blameworthy for his act of violence — he had shot a very popular President, a figure who had proven capable of commanding the respect of nearly every segment of a nation that had only recently begun to heal from the Civil War.

    And some thought he should be confined to what then was called a “lunatic asylum” until he was “cured,” if that could ever have happened.

    Now, the book also makes me really, really mad at Garfield’s doctor, who ignored plentiful good scientific advice and willfully blinded himself to readily-available evidence that could have saved his patient in an effort to advance his own career. This guy was Garfield’s real killer, not Guiteau. But the point here is you’ve got a person who is seriously mentally ill, who has done something intolerable and violent, something that if he were not ill would merit the most serious of available criminal punishments.

    We just don’t deal with that well in the law, because it’s a really hard question. We can’t say the mentally ill defendant possesses the mens rea necessary to determine criminal intent. But we also can’t tolerate the act itself regardless of the intent. And we don’t seem politically willing to put resources into the sorts of treatment that is necessary to enable a mentally ill person to behave autonomously and safely, nor do we trust the mentally ill patient to stick to the regimen of drugs necessary for such a result which is the best science has offered us so far.

    So, I guess I understand why some people who want to short-circuit the tough, expensive place that such moral logic leads to and go back to a tougher and more uncomfortable Classical ethic of justice: why you did something doesn’t matter, you did it, and you’re going to be punished. (E.g., the climactic scene at the end of Oedipus Rex, when Oedipus is torn apart by the Furies for the crimes of parricide and incest despite his good-faith ignorance when those acts were committed.) I understand why they’d seek refuge in that simpler world view, but it’s not the intellectual resting place hoped for. It’s not justice; it’s just vengeance.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Obamacare covers mental treatment.

      If we’re willing to give you a phone call after you’re out of the hospital to remind you to take your meds, surely we’re willing (and I know people paid by the state doing it) to show up and help you take your meds if you’re a real risk.Report

    • Avatar aaron david in reply to Burt Likko says:

      “It’s not justice; it’s just vengeance.”
      The older I get (and I believe that we are about the same age) the less I feel that anyone, across all spectrum’s, wants justice over revenge. Part of this manifests in supporting the death penalty. Part of this manifests in rioting.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Mostly we have no idea what to do because we can’t fix it.

      Do we kill the guy? There’s problems with that.
      Do we lock him in a room alone for the rest of his life? There’s problems with that.
      Do we lock him in a building and let him interact with other people we’ve locked in the building? There’s problems with that.
      Do we force him to do manual labor for the rest of his life and sleep in a cruddy bed and eat cruddy food? There’s problems with that.
      Do we give him McDonald’s, full-sugar Coca-Cola, trans-fats donuts, and let him watch his shows until he keels over? There’s problems with that.
      Do we let him go and make sure he’s taking his meds for the rest of his life? There’s problems with that.
      Do we not let him go but make sure he’s taking his meds for the rest of his life? There’s problems with that.

      What do we do? Everything sucks and there’s no way to make anything right.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:


        But the problems with those responses are very, very different.

        I mean, if the cons we are choosing between are, “A man is dead as a result of his mental illness,” and, “People feel we’ve gone soft,” I know which one I’m opting for.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        It’s also possible to flip that around:

        “How many more will die due to this man’s mental illness?” vs. “Europeans will think we’re still barbarians!”

        What are the various goals of whatever we’d be trying to do?

        Rehabilitate the guy?
        Protect the rest of society from the guy?
        Punish the guy?
        Make some sort of restitution to the victims?
        Make the guy himself provide some sort of restitution to the victims?

        It seems to me that some of those goals are more achievable than others and, wouldn’t you know it, the easier ones are the ones that are less admirable. Well, less admirable to smart, urbane, modern types like us.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

        Everything sucks and there’s no way to make anything right.

        I’ve been pushing to have “In God We Trust” replaced with the above on all US currency, but so far, no dice; which I feel actually proves the premise.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jaybird says:

        Oh, I wouldn’t assume we’re all smart urbane folks like you.
        The mentally deficient person who won’t stop trying to rape people?
        I’m not sure that killing him isn’t the best idea (particularly since he’s likely to be around also mentally deficient girls, who may lack the mental capacity to know what he’s doing to them).

        This, mind, isn’t about the “mentally ill”… it’s about the mentally retarded. Mentally ill carries the connotation that they’re more or less “detatched” from the real world (PTSD, bipolar, schizophrenia… ), and that we can to some extent fix or mitigate the issue.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        I suppose that there is another option: “Make ourselves feel better?”

        That’s probably the most important one. One without which any other option is unworkable.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        I don’t have the answer, but I’m pretty sure, “Eh, let’s kill ’em,” is not going to be it.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jaybird says:

        aww, that’s so sweet. Nah, we’ve got another way to deal with it: hide and forget about it.
        In this world, it’s rather tough to have a conscience.Report

  10. Avatar greginak says:

    I’ve had some clients who committed serious crimes while severally mentally ill. When i worked them it was aimed at getting and keeping them out of state psych hospitals after long hospitalizations. None of them had killed someone but that was partially just luck, some had caused serious injury. The state psych hospital, Greystone for those Jersey folk, was actually pretty good as they go. All of them were not remotely cognizant of what they had done when they committed their crimes. As it was they were all heavily handicapped by their mental illness many years later. None of them were remotely dangerous any more. In fact when on meds and with basic treatment they were all harmless along with being generally nice, pleasant, “eccentric” people.Report

  11. Avatar Advocatus Diaboli says:

    1) “Eugenics” is simply not the right word. This case isn’t about sterilizing Panetti nor otherwise inhibiting his ability to procreate, it’s about the sanction that society should impose for killing two people and terrorizing overnight two others. That society wants mentally ill out of sight and out of mind isn’t right, but it isn’t eugenics. The current default hands off policy for mentally ill in all likely hood increased baby making opportunities and behavior, unless you think there’s a lot of conjugal visits going on at in-patient treatment centers.

    2) This isn’t Panetti’s first go around with the Supremes.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Advocatus Diaboli says:

      So, we can say the guy has already cost us $18 million. Do we just shoot him, or make him pay that back?Report

    • @advocatus-diaboli

      re: “eugenics” not being the right term

      That was my thought at first, and it’s still mostly my thought. But in a sense, it is something like the right word. Part of what Saul is talking about is not only executions, but a certain tendency to shunt the severely mentally ill from public view, or just not to think about it.Report

  12. From the local news reports, Cook County has a huge problem with mentally ill persons ending up in the county jail. The sheriff claims that he and his department have been forced–by the closure of treatment centers, etc.–to become the largest mental care institution in the county.Report

  13. Avatar Kolohe says:

    here’s a chance to see another case unfold from the beginning.

    A charity in the DC area provides housing to people with mental health issues, using units it (apparently) fully owns in market rate multi-unit residential buildings. (i.e. it isn’t just warehousing people). Yesterday, one woman for whom the charity provided housing allegedly stabbed to death another woman, a roommate, who was also being provided housing.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Kolohe says:

      Yeah, that’s horrible, but I hope it doesn’t hurt the charity, which sounds like it does good work.

      People who think stereotypes almost bit their ears off will likely judge the charity, though.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

        People who think stereotypes almost bit their ears off will likely judge the charity, though.

        You got upset when I snarked that he’s a monster, but you’re really reinforcing the perception that you intend something very much like that.

        Yes, Saul made an ignorant statement about the mentally ill. As a theater guy turned lawyer, it’s obviously not his area of expertise. You could have explained that to him, and I’m sure he’s intelligent enough to learn from you. But for some reason you need to turn it into a morality play and damn him.

        Hell, if you corrected him and then he continued to make the same claim, then you could reasonably be justified in ripping him. But you’re damning him the first time he’s broached the topic, one that I’m sure you agree is regrettably obscure to most people.

        Do you really think you’re justified in this?Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Chris says:


        I’m glad to see you think you can make presumptions on what I am going to support or not. How bloody fucking righteous and “leftier than thou” of you.

        FWIW I think this charity is a great idea. I also like the charity in Minneapolis that provides housing for chronic alcoholics and gives them a drinking money allowance. And yes things happen and the charities should not be judged for them.

        People in NYC and San Francisco have to deal with homelessness and the mentally ill frequently. I am not scared of them but I do know a lot of women who refuse to go on Haight Street and other areas because they feel like they are more likely to be harassed by the street life there. I think there is a right to be treated with dignity and decency for everyone. No one should be kicked out of their homes for being LGBT and I think if we were a more decent society people would have places to turn to besides the street when in tense and tough situations. There is also a right to go about your business and day without being harassed.

        These things are complicated. They don’t exist on your anti-bourgeois continuum.Report