RECTOR v. BRYANT , 501 U.S. 1239 (1991)

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U.S. Supreme Court

RECTOR v. BRYANT , 501 U.S. 1239 (1991)

501 U.S. 1239 115 L.Ed.2d 1038

Ricky Ray RECTOR, petitioner,
Winston BRYANT, Attorney General of Arkansas, et al
No. 90-7755

Supreme Court of the United States

June 24, 1991

Rehearing Denied Sept. 20, 1991.

See U.S., 112 S.ct. 34.

On Petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice MARSHALL, dissenting.

In Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399, 106 S.Ct. 2595, 91 L.Ed.2d 335 ( 1986), this Court recognized that "the Eighth Amendment prohibits a State from carrying out a sentence of death upon a prisoner who is insane." Id., at 409-410, 106 S.Ct., at 2601-2602. The full Court, however, did not attempt a comprehensive definition of insanity or incompetence in this setting. See id., at 407-408, 409-410, 106 S.Ct., at 2600-2601, 2601-2602 ; id., at 418, 106 S.Ct., at 2606 (Powell, J., concurring in part and concurring in the judgment). This petition presents the question whether a prisoner whose mental incapacity renders him unable to recognize or communicate facts that would make his sentence unlawful or unjust is nonetheless competent to be executed. Because Ford leaves this question unanswered, and because this is an important and recurring issue in the administration of the death penalty, I would grant the petition.


After shooting and killing a police officer sent to investigate petitioner's involvement in another homicide, petitioner attempted to end his own life by shooting himself in the head. The gunshot did not kill petitioner. However, it did sever a three-inch section

Page 501 U.S. 1239, 1240

of petitioner's brain, resulting in a frontal lobotomy. See 923 F.2d 570, 571, and n. 2 (CA8 1991). The trial court rejected petitioner's claim that he was incompetent to stand trial for murder of the police officer. Petitioner's conviction and sentence of death were affirmed on appeal.

Petitioner thereafter filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal district court, arguing that his deteriorated mental condition rendered him incompetent to be executed. The District Court ordered a mental evaluation of petitioner to be conducted by the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners. The examiners reached two conclusions. First, the examiners determined "that no mental illness or defect prevents [petitioner] from being aware of his impending execution and the reason for it." Id., at 572. Second, applying the competency standard adopted by the American Bar Association in its Criminal Justice Mental Health Standards,1 the examiners reported that

    "[petitioner] would have considerable difficulty due to his organic deficits in being able to work in a collaborative, cooperative effort with an attorney. In our opinions it appears that he would not be able to recognize or understand facts which might be related to his case which might make his punishment unjust or unlawful." Ibid. ( emphasis added).

The District Court concluded that, for purposes of Ford v. Wainwright, supra, petitioner's competency to be executed turned solely on his appreciation of the nature of his punishment. Consequently, the court denied the writ. See 727 F.Supp. 1285, 1292 (ED Ark.1990).

Petitioner appealed this determination to the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Like the District Court, the Court of Appeals concluded that petitioner's inability to recognize or communi- [501 U.S. 1239, 1241]

Full Text of Opinion


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