Madison v. Memory: Executions and Lack of Capacity


On November 6, 2017, the Supreme Court declared that a man could potentially not remember the crime he committed, but still be executed for it. Madison was legally blind at the time, had slurred speech, and was unable to recall the crime he was going to be executed for. The Supreme Court nonetheless permitted the execution since he could understand how he was going to be punished, and the foreseeable consequences of capital punishment.


  • How have the courts dealt with the death penalty in the past when the person appears to be disabled, and unable to appreciate why he is subject to capital punishment?


  • In Panetti, the prisoner who was convicted of capital murder sought a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that he was incompetent to be executed. The Court found that the state court failed to provide defendant the procedures he was entitled to under the Constitution with respect to his claim that he was incompetent to be executed. (2007).
    • Furthermore, under Ford, after a prisoner has made the requisite threshold showing of incompetency to be executed, a court must allow a prisoner’s counsel the opportunity to make an adequate response to evidence solicited by the state court.
    • The Court ultimately reversed and remanded because the prisoner’s mental disorder could put his awareness of a link between a crime and its punishment in a context so far removed from reality that the punishment can serve no proper purpose.
  • A federal habeas petitioner meets the demanding standard for relief under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) only when he shows that the state court’s decision was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fair-minded disagreement. [28 U.S.C. §2254(d); Dunn v. Madison].
  • The last time Madison’s case was heard by the Supreme Court, the Court affirmed his conviction and death sentence.
    • “Alabama state court’s determination that petitioner sentenced to death for capital murder was competent to be executed, even if recent strokes suffered by petitioner left him unable to remember committing the murder, was not unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent, and thus federal habeas relief wasn’t warranted under the AEDPA…notwithstanding memory loss, petitioner recognized that he would be put to death as punishment for murder he was found to have committed.” 28 U.S.C. §2254(d)


Over 30 years ago, Vernon Madison came up behind a police officer, Julius Schulte and shot him twice in the head at close range. The jury, in Alabama, found Madison guilty of murder. The jury voted for the death penalty, and the trial court sentenced him to death. In 2016, as Madison’s execution was drawing closer, he petitioned the trial court for a suspension of his death sentence on the grounds that he was not competent to be executed. Madison had suffered strokes recently, and he challenged his competence due to these strokes. The psychologists that Madison’s counsel had retained to evaluate him reported that he could not remember the crime he had committed, but he could understand the results or effects of his death sentence. Ultimately, the Court held that Madison was “competent” to be executed, and now Madison is back before the Supreme Court to test whether the sentence handed down by the trial judge after the jury returned a life sentence was constitutionally permissible.


  • The death penalty is legal in 31 states and illegal in 19 states
  • Alabama is number 6 in the highest number of executions per capita (as of 2015) and California is number 31 (this was before New Mexico, Connecticut, Maryland, and Illinois abolished the death penalty)
  • The method of execution in Alabama is electrocution




*In no way is Radio Law Talk or its affiliates or hosts giving legal advice.  Seek legal counsel. Radio Law Talk does not guarantee the full accuracy of these blogs as most situations are unique unto themselves and some or all of these blogs may not apply.  Laws constantly change or may be interpreted differently.  Each state laws may differ, along also with federal laws.  Do not use this blog as advise in any way.

**Radio Law Talk does not guarantee the accuracy of all detail research.Above is the written research performed prior to one of the latest shows. Neither Radio Law Talk nor its hosts guarantee its complete accuracy as it is a “working script” only and as such is used as a base foundation of the legal topics discussed. Many additions and changes made during and before the broadcast.” This is for informational purposes only and not to be relied upon as all of the issues or law for the subject topic. Seek legal counsel for all your legal needs.