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HB16 to abolish the death penalty for the mentally ill won’t take effect until July 2010 if it becomes law

Ray_Larson_LexingtonFayette County Commonwealth Attorney Ray Larson (right) twice gave the wrong effective date of bill HB16, a measure to keep people with severe mental illness at the time of their offense from facing the death penalty, should it become law.

The bill, introduced by Rep. David Floyd (R-Bardstown, minority whip) and cosponsored by Rep. Darryl Owens (D-Louisville), only applies to the accused whose trials begin after the effective date of the bill–which would be in July 2010 if HB16 becomes law.

On the Oct. 12 episode of KET’s “Kentucky Tonite” with Bill Goodman, Larson twice misstated that the bill’s effective date is July 13, 1990. That date only applies to “seriously mentally retarded offenders.”

Were Larson’s statement accurate, then everyone already sentenced to death would appear to have another avenue of appeals. That is not the case.

Hopefully this post will clear up any confusion.

Here is the relevant section of HB16:

(3)     The provisions of KRS 532.135 and 532.140 shall apply only to trials commenced after July 13, 1990,  for seriously mentally retarded offenders and after the effective date of this Act, for severely mentally ill offenders.

A severely mentally ill person, like a person suffering from mental retardation, is so impaired that he or she should be held accountable for his or her behavior, but not subjected to the death penalty. This bill allows a jury to sentence such a person, if guilty, to life without parole.

[Update Oct. 28, 2009: Today’s LEO Weekly published a letter to the editor from Reps. Floyd and Owens explaining that “this new law would then apply only to those whose trials begin 90 days after the end of the legislative session of 2010. It does not apply to other cases.”]

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