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Challenges and concerns in capital defense

What are the challenges that lawyers usually face in raising mental health concerns in death penalty cases? Watch to find out.
Hi, everyone. In this video, we will discuss some of the challenges that lawyers may face when undertaking an inquiry into mental health in death penalty cases. Some of these challenges overlap with challenges mentioned previously, such as those related to the inability of mental health professionals in meeting prisoners, because of prison rules. While the law on death penalty in India looks at mental health at various points, a big hurdle in bringing these arguments to court has been the inability of experts such as mental health professionals or social workers to meet prisoners due to restrictions under prison manuals.
However, in cases specific to the death penalty in 2018, the Supreme Court extended the right to effective legal representation of death row prisoners to include mental health professionals. The court in 2019 also recognized the relevance of social workers to legal defense in collecting and presenting mitigating factors at the time of sentencing in death penalty cases. Now these are important tools that lawyers must use and push for when representing death row prisoners to ensure effective representation. However, even when lawyers meet prisoners in India, these meetings are extremely short and infrequent. This makes it difficult for even lawyers to collect information that may be relevant for mental health.
One way to overcome this barrier is to collect this information from families, friends and members of the community or anyone who is a close relative of the accused. Relevant information includes developmental history, childhood experiences, physical or mental trauma, abuse, as well as positive experiences that prisoners have had. Information regarding exposure to violence at home or in the community can also become relevant when seen in the context of the life of the prisoner. Another barrier is the lack of documentation among prisoners, particularly because an overwhelming majority of death row prisoners come from socioeconomically marginalized communities. Therefore, they may never have gone to a formal hospital or clinic for treatment. In such cases, questions must be geared towards alternatives and proxies.
For instance, the lawyer could collect information on whether a person ever went to a faith healer or traditional healer for mental or physical health treatment. Once such information is collected, it can be presented to a mental health professional who may be able to indicate whether there is a likely mental health concern or provide guidance for more targeted inquiries. If willing, family members could talk to the mental health professional for more effective data collection. It is important to remember that lawyers are not trained in detecting mental health concerns. Therefore, enlisting the support of the relevant expert is paramount. The lawyer becomes a conduit for information rather than the one who analyzes the information.
Another barrier which exists is the lack of awareness about mental health among students and practitioners of law. As a result, many important mental health concerns relevant to the death penalty have not made it to courts. Even as these issues go to the fundamentals of questions of responsibility, they remain absent from jurisprudence. Lawyers representing death row prisoners must therefore equip themselves with the knowledge and vocabulary that is essential to presenting mental health concerns of their clients in courts so as to ensure the right to fair sentencing and ultimately the right to a fair trial. Thank you for joining me, and I hope this has been useful. Thank you.

What are the restrictions that capital defense lawyers in India face in presenting mental health considerations in death penalty cases? What can be some ways around it?

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Forensic Mental Health and Criminal Justice

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