Can You Be Executed for a Crime You Don’t Remember Committing?

The Supreme Court heard arguments today to decide whether an inmate who has no memory of his crime can be executed anyway – although you can be executed for a crime you don’t remember committing, what if the memory failure is caused by dementia brought on by multiple strokes?

What is the standard that the courts must apply when a person is scheduled to be killed by the state but doesn’t understand why?

Are there situations when it’s okay to kill an inmate although they don’t remember the crime?

Death Row Prisoners Must Have a Rational Understanding of Why They Are Being Executed

Vernon Madison’s attorneys are arguing that it would violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment to kill him because:

[H]e has an IQ score of 72, suffers from vascular dementia and memory loss as a result of brain damage from several strokes and “does not remember the crime for which he has been convicted and does not have a rational understanding of why the state of Alabama seeks to execute him.”

“The execution of Vernon Madison consequently is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment’s essential commitment to human dignity,” attorney Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative wrote.

The State of Alabama is arguing that, regardless of whether Madison remembers the crime, he understands what the crime is and why he is being executed:

“It’s not that he has to have a perfect memory. The question is whether he understands the crime that he committed as well as understands why he’s being punished. I think it’s pretty clear on both fronts that he does,” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall told The Associated Press.

They are right – there are many possible scenarios where an inmate would not remember that they committed a crime or not believe that they committed the crime, but that does not prevent the State from executing them…

Actual Innocence

Yes, there are people on death row who are innocent. There are people who have been executed who are innocent.

If they can prove actual innocence, they may be able to get relief from the death penalty, but that is an uphill battle for most people – particularly when a jury has found them guilty…

It’s not cruel and unusual punishment for the state to execute a person who didn’t commit the crime – unless they can prove that they didn’t commit the crime. They can still understand what the crime is and why they are being killed by their government.

Alford Pleas

In some situations, a person can plead guilty even though they do not remember committing the crime – if they acknowledge that the evidence shows that they committed the crime and if they are getting the benefit of a plea bargain, courts will often accept their guilty plea and sentence them.

Although it is unlikely that a court would accept an Alford plea to a capital crime, courts sentence defendants to lengthy prison sentences every day even though they do not admit that they committed the crime…

Criminal Defense Lawyer in Myrtle Beach, SC

Attorney Daniel A. Selwa represents clients charged with crimes in Myrtle Beach, Conway, Georgetown, and Horry County, SC.

If you have been arrested and charged with a crime in SC, call now at (843) 492-5449 or email us through our website to speak with a defense attorney today.

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