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SCOTUS to Re-Review 'Madison v. Memory'

By George Khoury, Esq. on February 28, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The case of Vernon Madison has been headline news since his most recent round of appeals got started back in 2016. Madison, an inmate in his late 60s, contends that he should not be executed because he cannot remember committing the crime that landed him on death row. Now, the Supreme Court is gearing up to hear Madison's case for a second time.

While that novel argument seems to defy all credulity, Madison's failing memory is actually an undisputed fact, and case law establishes that a convict should not be executed unless they can "rationally understand the connection between the crime he committed and the punishment he is to receive." Madison has suffered multiple strokes, and as a result, can't remember who the last president was, let alone the crime he committed over 30 years ago.

Previously on the Supreme Court Docket

In November 2017, SCOTUS issued a Per Curiam ruling finding that Madison could be executed despite his failing memory. The High Court rationalized in the unanimous decision that though he could not remember the details of his crime, Madison was competent to understand that he was being put to death for a crime that he was convicted of. And while this seemingly fine line is about as grey as it gets, even the SCOTUS justices ideologically opposed to the death penalty agreed. Now Madison is back before the High Court to test whether the sentence handed down by the trial judge after the jury returned a life sentence, was constitutionally permissible.

Is This Justice or Vengeance?

While those that advocate for Madison's execution can believe what they wish about the death penalty, there is a certain undeniable sense of injustice that comes from executing a person with no recollection of their crime. The victim's family might not get the closure they need, but that's not what our justice system was designed to provide. It's not about vengeance, it's about enforcing justice to maintain a peaceful and civilized society.

After all, our justice system does not execute as a means of achieving "eye for an eye," but rather as a means to promote deterrence. After all, as we all should have learned from Mahatma Ghandi, an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

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