The state of Texas’s execution last week of a 33-year-old man convicted of murder in a 1998 carjacking has called attention to a debate over whether fetal alcohol syndrome should be considered a mitigating factor in sentencing for capital crimes.
Investigation into Yokamon Hearn’s life history had revealed evidence of significant parental impairment and neglect, and signs of brain damage. Hearn’s attorneys and others opposing his execution had pinned their hopes on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling that executing a person with mental retardation violates the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The case of Hearn even generated a written communication from the United Nations urging that authorities reconsider Hearn’s death sentence.
Prosecutors and crime victims’ advocates argue in cases such as Hearn’s that considering fetal alcohol syndrome as a factor reducing an offender’s culpability amounts to giving license for criminal behavior to anyone whose parent drank.
What is your opinion on whether fetal alcohol syndrome should be considered in such matters?