16 April 2022 :
Governor signed HB 269 into law.
Exempting severely mentally ill defendants from capital punishment.
Kentucky Becomes Second State to Bar Imposing Death Penalty on Those Diagnosed as Seriously Mentally Ill. On April 8, 2022, Governor Andy Beshear signed HB 269 into law, as Kentucky joined neighboring Ohio in exempting severely mentally ill defendants from capital punishment.
The enactment of the new law by a Republican-dominated legislature and a Democratic governor reflected broad bipartisan support for limiting the scope of Kentucky’s death penalty statute. The bill, whose 21 co-sponsors included both Republicans and Democrats, passed the state House of Representatives on February 9, 2022 (see) by a vote of 76-19. It then passed the State Senate by a vote of 25-9 on March 25 (see).
HB 269 prohibits the death penalty for defendants with a prior diagnosis of four serious mental health disorders: schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, and/or delusional disorder. Unlike a similar measure passed in Ohio in January 2021, Kentucky’s law would not apply to those already sentenced to death. Despite the law’s limitations, its passage was historic, advocates said.
The law allows defendants who had active symptoms and a documented diagnosis of serious mental illness at the time of their offense to seek a pretrial adjudication of their ineligibility for the death penalty. Those seeking to bar capital prosecution under the law must file a motion in the trial court at least 120 days before their scheduled trial date. If the court determines that the defendant meets the statute’s requirements, the case will proceed as a non-capital trial. The law’s requirement that a defendant have a pre-existing diagnosis of his or her disorder is expected to spur legal challenges from individuals who were seriously mentally ill at the time of the offense but because of lack of access to appropriate mental health care had not received an appropriate diagnosis.