November 02, 2018

Arkansas Supreme Court strikes down section of death penalty statute


On November 1, the Supreme Court of Arkansas struck down a section of its death penalty statute that gives the state's prison director authority to determine whether an inmate is mentally competent to be put to death.

The court ruled that the competency law violated due process rights and equal protection guaranteed under the US and Arkansas constitutions.

The ruling comes in a case involving two convicted murderers, Bruce Ward and Jack Green, who were spared from execution in 2017.

Ward was tried and convicted of capital murder of Rebecca Lynn Doss in 1990 and sentenced to death. He was scheduled to be killed by lethal injection in April 2017 but appealed to the state Supreme Court on the grounds that he was not mentally competent to face capital punishment and that the section of the Arkansas code that allowed for the assessment of his mental fitness to be executed was unconstitutional.

Ward argued that the Arkansas statute, which was “devoid of any procedure by which a death-row inmate has an opportunity to make an initial substantial threshold showing of insanity,” allowed the Arkansas penal system to execute him unfairly. In a split decision, the Supreme Court agreed with the appellant.

Ward also stated that he's a diagnosed schizophrenic.

On the other hand, Greene, who was sentenced to death for the 1991 slaying of Sidney Burnett, stated that he suffers from psychotic delusions and believes the attorneys and prison officials have conspired to torture him.

Referring to previous judgments with respect to the constitutionality of mental competency statute of Arkansas, Chief Justice John Kemp stated that it was unconstitutional to execute a mentally incompetent defendant and that a defendant had a right to a court assessment of their mental capacity following a death penalty conviction. The court said, executing the criminals after 25 years in solitary confinement would be cruel and unusual punishment and would violate his constitutional rights and thus ruled the law as unconstitutional.

In April 2017, Arkansas had planned to execute ward along with seven other inmates. However, Ward and three other inmates were granted stays, and the state ultimately executed four men over an eight-day period that month.

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