On Thursday night, a man named Vernon Madison was scheduled for a lethal injection in a prison in southwest Alabama, a final punishment for a man who had killed a police officer. At the 11th hour, the United States Supreme Court stayed the execution, in order to further review the case, and leftist organizations are celebrating the delay in carrying out the sentence.
The facts of the case are simple. Madison was accused of killing an Alabama police Officer, Julius Schulte, by shooting him in the back of the head as he sat in his police car. However, nearly 33 years after the sentence was handed down, the question is whether he is mentally equipped to understand why he is being put to death.
Vernon Madison’s attorneys argue that Madison, due to multiple strokes and to dementia, is unable to remember the killing for which the state of Alabama demands he be put to death. Because of this, they argue that he should not be put to death.
The Supreme Court has ruled in previous and unrelated cases that an inmate condemned to some sort of sentence must have a “rational understanding” that they are about to be executed, and be able to understand why that is the case.
At this point, it’s questionable as to whether or not Vernon Madison meets this “rational understanding” standard. Because of this, the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the case so that they can examine the evidence for themselves.
This is not the first time that a court has stalled the execution of Madison. In 2016, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals halted the execution seven hours before it was set to begin. The U.S. Supreme Court later cleared the way for the execution to proceed.
In an opinion in 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court stated that Madison was cognizant of the fact that he was being put to death for a murder he committed, even if Madison is no longer capable of remembering the actual murder itself.
This is new territory for the United States Supreme Court, which has not ever heard a case like this before. The United States Supreme Court has not, in 228 years of operation, ever had cause to hear a case about whether or not a person incapable of remembering their crime can be executed for the said crime.
In part, federal courts are limited in their ability to question the decisions of state courts when it comes to executions, thanks to a law passed in 1996.
The other basis for the execution is a claim by Madison’s attorney that the death sentence is illegal due to a law passed after the sentence was handed down, but the defense attorney claims should be applied retroactively.
Essentially, this law said that in Alabama, judges could not override a jury’s recommendation for sentencing in cases that are eligible for the death penalty.
In the case of Vernon Madison, the jury recommended that he receive life in prison, but the judge decided that Vernon Madison would instead be put to death. His defense attorney claims that due to the law being changed, Madison’s sentence should be changed along with it.
The state of Alabama and its attorney general’s office state that in their view, the law was not retroactive, and so it does nothing to give Madison a venue for avoiding the death sentence.
When criminals go to trial for crimes they’ve allegedly committed, there are circumstances where they can avoid serious sentences by being found unfit to stand for trial, and being incapable of remembering the crime they’re on trial for is one of them.
However, on the other hand, at the time of his sentencing, Vernon Madison was well aware of what he was accused of. Throughout the trial, he showed no sign of being mentally incompetent or unaware of what he had done.
Vernon Madison has been found guilty of killing a police officer, of that there is no debate. When he was found guilty of this killing, there was no question of his mental state.
However, is it morally and ethically correct to punish a man with the ultimate punishment if he cannot understand why it is happening? Furthermore, is there any way to be certain as to whether Madison is or is not suffering from dementia issues?
At this point, whatever the case may be, the Supreme Court will not only be the court that decides whether Vernon Madison lives or dies, but also whether or not people who may be mentally impaired at the time of their death will be executed still.
The decision by the Supreme Court will have far-reaching impact, and it will be interesting to see just what that impact will be.