Magazine article Developments in Mental Health Law

Rulings That Alcohol Abuse Does Not Have to Be Specifically Delineated in Capital Jury Instructions as a Potential Mitigating Factor Not Disturbed

Magazine article Developments in Mental Health Law

Rulings That Alcohol Abuse Does Not Have to Be Specifically Delineated in Capital Jury Instructions as a Potential Mitigating Factor Not Disturbed

Article excerpt

The Supreme Court declined to review a ruling of the Fifth Circuit that rejected a capital defendant's argument that the jury during his sentencing hearing had been provided inadequate instructions regarding his alcohol abuse. Texas law delineates issues the jury must address in reviewing potentially mitigating evidence during sentencing. The defendant argued this framework was unconstitutional because it did not specifically identify alcohol abuse as a potential mitigating factor.

In rejecting this argument, the Fifth Circuit noted that the Supreme Court in Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302 (1989), established that a sentencing jury must be given adequate means of giving effect to mitigating evidence of severe mental retardation and abuse. The Fifth Circuit, however, determined that Penry also established that this type of evidence is limited to evidence that demonstrates a "uniquely severe permanent handicap with which the defendant was burdened through no fault of his own" and that neither evidence of alcoholism nor evidence of intoxication at the time of the offense constitutes this type of evidence. …

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