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Ford v. Wainwright

Significance

This key decision established the constitutional right of prisoners not to be executed once it is determined that they are insane.

In 1974, Alvin Bernard Ford was found guilty of murder by a Florida state court. Under Florida's capital-punishment legislation, he was sentenced to death. At that time, he was presumably sane and competent to stand trial.

In early 1982, Ford was still awaiting execution--but now he was starting to show what was described as "gradual changes in behavior." First he became obsessed with the Ku Klux Klan. Then he began to think he was:

. . . the target of a complex conspiracy, involving the Klan and assorted others, designed to force him to commit suicide. He believed that the prison guards, part of the conspiracy, had been killing people and putting the bodies in the concrete enclosures used for beds. Later, he began to believe that his women relatives were being tortured and sexually abused somewhere in the prison. This notion developed into a delusion that the people who were tormenting him at the prison had taken members of Ford's family hostage . . . By "day 287" of the "hostage crisis," the list of hostages had expanded to include "senators, Senator Kennedy, and many other leaders." . . . Ford . . . claim[ed] to have fired a number of prison officials. He began to refer to himself as "Pope John Paul III . . . "

Dr. Jamal Amin, who had previously examined Ford, concluded that Ford suffered from "a severe, uncontrollable mental disease which closely resembles `Paranoid Schizophrenia with Suicide Potential.'" Amin based this conclusion on some 14 months of evaluation.

Amin's conclusions were supported by Dr. Harold Kaufman, who interviewed Ford in November of 1983 after Ford had refused see Dr. Amin, believing him to be part of the conspiracy. Dr. Kaufman found that there was "no reasonable possibility that Mr. Ford was dissembling, malingering, or otherwise putting on a performance." Indeed, the next month, Ford was virtually incomprehensible, making such statements as: "Hands one, face one. Mafia one. God one, father one, Pope one. Pope one. Leader one."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Ford v. Wainwright - Significance, Ruling On Insanity, Cruel And Unusual Punishment?, Deciding On Insanity, Implications Of The Forddecision