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The Afterlife of Ford and Panetti: Execution Competence and the Capacity to Assist Counsel


Christopher Seeds


Cornell University - Law School

April 20, 2009

Saint Louis University Law Journal, Vol. 53, 2009

Abstract:     
The capacity to assist counsel and communicate a defense once held a central place in assessing competence for execution. Since Ford v. Wainwright (1986), however, courts have discarded this measure, viewing Justice Powell’s concurring opinion, which required only that a prisoner understand the execution as mortal punishment for a capital crime, as the Eighth Amendment rule. In a significant development, the Supreme Court’s decision in Panetti v. Quarterman (2007) - its first interpreting Ford - sends notice that Justice Powell’s statements on the substantive standard are not Ford's rule, providing a long overdue opportunity to address whether executing prisoners with severe mental illness who lack the capacity to assist counsel contravenes evolving standards of decency. Current concerns with the execution of innocent prisoners and difficulties determining execution competence since Ford support reinstating the capacity to assist counsel in the Eighth Amendment test.

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Date posted: April 24, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Seeds, Christopher, The Afterlife of Ford and Panetti: Execution Competence and the Capacity to Assist Counsel (April 20, 2009). Saint Louis University Law Journal, Vol. 53, 2009. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1392431

Contact Information

Christopher Seeds (Contact Author)
Cornell University - Law School ( email )
524 College Ave
Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States
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