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Legislators asked to spare those with an SMI from the death penalty

Progress is made in both the House and Senate to pass the legislation

In the past two weeks, legislators in both the House (House Bill 136) and Senate (Senate Bill 54) have considered bills that would exempt the seriously mentally ill (SMI) from the death penalty in Ohio IF, at the time of the crime, an individual was diagnosed by a forensic mental health evaluator with one of the five severe mental illness (SMI) diagnoses AND that only those individuals whose SMI was in such a state of severity that it lead to diminished capacity at the time of their crime. 

The five diagnoses are Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Schizoaffective Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder and Delusional Disorder.

Megan Testa, testifying on behalf of the Ohio Psychiatric Association and the Ohio Alliance on Mental Illness Exemption (of which OPPA is a member), said a small fraction of individuals would qualify for the severe mental illness exemption under the bill.

"The five psychiatric diagnoses included in the SB54 definition of SMI are a narrow set of severe disorders that typically emerge in early adulthood and continue throughout life, either continuously or episodically. The disorders manifest with loss of touch with reality, cognitive impairment, compromised judgment, and/or executive dysfunction (a loss of ability to organize thinking and behavior)," she said.

"Individuals living with these disorders also suffer with lack of insight into their illnesses, because the disorders themselves interfere with the individual's ability to recognize that what they think, and feel is not rational. These individuals have difficulty with education, employment, housing and relationships. They experience social stigma and isolation, and many times lack even minimal social support systems."

An amendment in House Bill 136 removed major depressive disorder (MDD) from the list of five SMIs defined in the bill. For now, Senate Bill 54 includes all five of the psychiatric diagnoses identified and the OPPA will continue to impress upon legislators that MDD is a serious mental illness and it should not be eliminated from the legislation.

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