ABA partners with TASMIE on film about severe mental illness and the death penalty

The American Bar Association, and its Death Penalty Due Process Review Project, has partnered with the Tennessee Alliance for the Severe Mental Illness Exclusion (TASMIE), in the production of an in-depth film titled, “Too Ill to Execute,” detailing the urgency of a movement to exclude those with severe mental illness from the death penalty.

The 32-minute film features the stories of persons directly affected by severe mental illness and the death penalty, medical and legal experts, as well as state Sen. Richard Briggs, sponsor of Tennessee’s legislation. The movie specifically highlights the case of William Morva, a man with severe mental illness who was executed in Virginia in 2017, and features the daughter of one of the victims, who was against Morva’s execution.

The film will premiere Feb. 11 to the public in hopes of sparking conversation in state legislatures, in relevant nonprofit organizations, faith communities and the media.

The movie will debut on TASMIE’s website (www.tasmie. org/tooilltoexecute/), provided through a link to the organization’s YouTube channel. It will be followed by an “Ask Me Anything” discussion on Twitter. The film, as well as shorter versions (21 minutes and 11 minutes) of the production, will be available 24/7 on YouTube after the launch.

On Tuesday, Feb. 12, TASMIE will load a resource guide on its website with instructions on how churches, nonprofits and other groups can share the film during services and meetings.

The ABA has opposed the death penalty for people with severe mental illness since 2006. In conjunction with the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and other experts, the ABA adopted a detailed policy opposing capital punishment for individuals with serious mental disorders or disabilities – present either at the time of their crime or as they are facing execution.

In 2018, the ABA conducted a cost analysis and determined that if a severe mental illness exemption were to be implemented in Tennessee, it would lead to a saving of $1.4 million to $1.9 million a year.

Although the ABA does not take a position supporting or opposing the death penalty generally, the policy is based largely on the concept that the execution of people with severe mental illness is no more justifiable than executing people with intellectual disabilities or juveniles, both of which have been ruled unconstitutional. This does not mean that defendants with severe mental illness should be absolved of responsibility for their crime. Rather, if found guilty, they would still be punished and could receive life in prison without parole.