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Ford v. Wainwright

Implications Of The Forddecision

Not every member of the Court agreed that executing the insane is a violation of the Eighth Amendment. But seven members of the Court did agree that Ford should not be executed based on the procedure that Florida had actually used to determine that he was not insane. As a result, Ford's case was remanded for further review--and the states were left to develop adequate due process procedures as best they could.

Members of the Court disagreed even among themselves over what procedures would be adequate. Although Justice Marshall said that a full jury trial was not necessary, the decision raised many questions: They were uncertain as to whether the prisoner and his or her lawyer needed to be able to make oral arguments--or if written submissions were sufficient; whether the burden was on the state to prove the prisoner's sanity or on the prisoner to prove insanity; And if insanity kept a death sentence from being carried out, what would happen to the prisoner who recovered from insanity. The newly sane prisoner, rather than being relieved at the healing process, would now face death.

Moreover, the issue of medications was called into question. In these days of antipsychotic drugs, some prisoners who are psychotic or delusional without their medication seem lucid and competent while the medication is in effect. No decision could be made as to whether it was a violation of the prisoner's privacy to compel them to take antipsychotic drugs--merely so that they can become competent enough to be killed. There was also the concern of doctors who would be in violation of their Hippocratic oath to cure a prisoner merely so that he or she can then be executed.

Clearly, Ford v. Wainwright raises many knotty questions that have not yet been answered. Meanwhile, by outlawing the execution of those who have no idea what is happening to them, the Court has helped to preserve the decency and humanity on which the American system of justice is supposed to be based.

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