Bill would eliminate death sentence for people with mental illness

5 months 3 weeks 3 days ago Monday, April 29 2019 Apr 29, 2019 Monday, April 29, 2019 7:58:00 AM CDT April 29, 2019 in Top Stories
By: Shoshana Dubnow, KOMU 8 Reporter
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JEFFERSON CITY -  A bill before the Missouri House of Representatives on Monday could eliminate the death sentence as a punishment for first-degree murder in the case of certain mental illnesses.

House Bill 353 says the following diagnoses could qualify someone to be exempt from receiving the death sentence:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Bipolar disorder, with psychotic features
  • Major depressive disorder, with psychotic features
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder

The bill says these conditions can significantly impair a person’s ability to “exercise rational judgement.”

Ric Doubet is a licensed professional counselor in Columbia. He said although he doesn’t support the death penalty himself, he also sees problems with the bill.

“This whole idea that we’re going to exonerate or reduce sentences for people because of mental illness, I think it has its merits,” Doubet said. “But it’s also got a lot of issues. Diagnosing is not a perfect science.”

Doubet said he often sees patients who have a variety of diagnoses from previous counselors. He said this subjectivity could make things more complex in court.

“When you start allowing people to be exonerated or to reduce their sentence based on someone’s subjective opinion, that can get crazy,” Doubet said. “It has all kinds of issues.”

Doubet previously worked as a psychotherapist in a prison. He said some individuals commit crimes in a moment of mental instability, but might not have a mental illness.

The bill specifies that the diagnosis of mental illness can be made before, on or after the person committed the offense.

The hearing is scheduled for noon on Monday.    

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