How Much Does a Person’s Mental Capacity Affect Their California Death Penalty Case?

How Much Does a Person’s Mental Capacity Affect Their California Death Penalty Case?


John David Battaglia, a man convicted of shooting and murdering his two young girls while his estranged wife was on the phone with him, was executed by the state of Texas on February 1, 2018. While there is no doubt that Battaglia committed the act, after he was convicted and condemned to death in 2002, his counsel presented a variety of concerns about his mental state.

The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution bans the execution of the “crazy” as a kind of cruel and unusual punishment, according to the United States Supreme Court. The difficulty is that the criteria for determining somebody is mad are quite ambiguous. A person is considered unfit to be condemned to death if he or she cannot reasonably grasp the grounds for their execution.

Only Connecticut allows defendants whose “mental capacity was considerably affected or his ability to conform his behavior to the requirements of the law was significantly hampered but not so impaired in either event as to establish a defense to the prosecution” to be excluded from prosecution.

In other words, offenders who are competent to stand trial but whose mental ability was diminished at the time of the crime are not subject to the death sentence in Connecticut. Several states, including Arkansas, Indiana, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, have proposed laws prohibiting the death sentence for those who were mentally ill at the time of their crime.

Many of these legislations mention particular mental illnesses such schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD, major depressive disorder, and delusional disorder. No law has been presented in California that would spare mentally ill individuals from the death penalty.

This leads us back to Mr. Battaglia’s execution. Mr. Battaglia was a successful certified public accountant (CPA) and a highly brilliant man, but he was diagnosed with delusional illness after three different psychiatric tests — one by the prosecution and one by the court. He believed he was being plotted against, stalked, cheated on, poisoned or drugged, tormented, and misrepresented as a result of his condition.

Mr. Battaglia was not fabricating these symptoms, according to all three assessments. Despite these assessments and diagnoses, the judge concluded that Mr. Battaglia had a master’s degree and was knowledgeable enough to fake the symptoms. As a result, Mr. Battaglia was given the death penalty. His appeals to Texas and federal courts were turned down. He was the third convict executed in the United States in 2018, with the other two being from Texas.

While the death penalty is divisive, there are a number of critical issues of its implementation that should be examined to ensure that it is handled equitably. If you are facing a murder charge or other serious state or federal crime, contact Chambers Law Firm at 714-760-4088 to request a free legal consultation.

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