In Panetti v. Quarterman, No. 06-6407 (June 28, 2007), the Supreme Court reversed the denial of habeas relief to a Texas inmate sentenced to death despite his well-documented history of mental illness.
The Court first held that the limitation on "second and successive" habeas petitions did not require dismissal of Panetti’s claim that his mental illness rendered him incompetent to be executed, because Panetti raised the claim as soon as it was ripe – and it became ripe after he had filed his first habeas petition.
Turning to the merits, the Court found that the state courts failed to give Panetti an opportunity to present his expert evidence on his mental condition. The Court further held that the Fifth Circuit had applied too restrictive an interpretation of Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986), when it found that Panetti’s ability to link his punishment to his crime defeated the claim of mental illness. The Court stated that Ford required that the defendant have a rational understanding of the State’s rationale for executing him. The Court therefore remanded the case to develop an evidentiary record on whether Panetti met the Ford criteria.
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