Roughly one in 10 of people on death row in the United States are military veterans and some of those suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder that was not considered in their sentencing, according to a new report released just one day before Veterans Day.
This report comes at a time when the country’s death penalty is declining and is facing massive scrutiny. It’s also a topic that has been argued on the presidential campaign trail this year.
Though the exact number of veterans sentenced to death is not known, the report released by the Death Penalty Information Center Tuesday says that roughly 300 of the more than 3,000 inmates on death row have served in the military, Washington Post reports.
The report continues by arguing that a person’s military background should be examined when a person is being sentenced, especially if a person on trial is showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“At a time in which the death penalty is being imposed less and less, it is disturbing that so many veterans who were mentally and emotionally scarred while serving their country are now facing execution,” executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, Robert Dunham, claimed in a statement.
It is unclear how many have been diagnosed with PTSD or have symptoms of PTSD. Nevertheless, Dunham says that there are too many times in too many cases that defense lawyers. prosecutors, judges, governors and juries (who can commute death sentences) skip over veterans’ mental issues.
But, the number of death sentences handed out and the number of states implementing the death sentence is going down. So far, 25 people have been executed this year.
The first person to be put to death this year in the United States was Andrew Brannan, a Vietnam vet on disability for bipolar disorder and PTSD, NBC News reports. He fatally shot an officer nine times at a traffic stop.
A dash-cam video revealed Brannan dancing and saying “shoot me” before he shot the 22-year-old officer with his rifle. The U.S. Supreme Court chose not to halt his lethal injection.
The legal director of the pro-capital punishment Criminal Justice Legal Foundation Kent Scheidigger said that since PTSD does not usually cause a diagnosed person to be violent, the disorder “may not have anything whatever to do with the crime.”
“If a crime is is sufficiently heinous, a death sentence may be the just outcome,” Scheidigger said. “Mental issues may be weighed in the balance, but they would have to be very severe before they outweighed, say, torture or serial killing.”
The new Death Penalty Information Center report looks at Brannan’s case along with many others. It states that ““many [veterans] have experienced trauma that few others in society have ever encountered — trauma that may have played a role in their committing serious crimes,” and that trauma should be considered when determining sentencing.
It also stated that many veterans’ military services and related mental illnesses were “barely touched on as their lives were being weighed by judges and juries.” The report continued: “Even today, there are veterans on death row with PTSD that was unexplored at their trial or undervalued for its pernicious effects.”
The report was meant to be a “wake-up call,” according to NBC. It said that the U.S. “owes its veterans a thorough examination of the use of the death penalty in their cases, even when their offenses are especially grievous.”