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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Appeal Denied

On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court denied a hearing of appeal from Brandy Holmes, who suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and is on death row for murder in Louisiana. Holmes' attorneys argued that FAS was not considered in her sentencing. Not only did the Supreme Court decline to hear the appeal, but, according to CNN, "the justices gave no reason for rejecting the appeal, which challenged the constitutionality of Louisiana's capital sentencing procedures and argued that Brandy Holmes' alleged developmental disabilities should disqualify her from execution". There is no reason why someone with mental disabilities who functions like a 10-12 year old should be executed in the United States of America. In the 21st century one would think that we would have an understanding of mental disorders and the constitutionality of punishing people with them the same way as others. There is no legitimate reason why the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome appeal should have been denied when previously the Supreme Court had banned the execution of the mentally retarded.

There is not a doubt that Holmes belongs in prison with a life sentence, but if some mentally retarded people are exempt from execution then every mental disability should be as well. "Experts on fetal alcohol syndrome call it the nation's leading preventable cause of mental retardation. As many as 40,000 newborns in the United States are affected each year by their mother's alcohol use, according to an advocacy group. The syndrome can lead to brain damage, behavioral problems and intellectual disabilities", as reported on CNN. We are just now starting to understand the complexities and inconsistencies that exist with this disorder. There are varying degrees of FAS and sometimes the disorder cannot be seen physically. Tom Donaldson, the president of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, believes that "Brandy has a hallmark case of FAS", that is why Brandy received NOFAS support with her appeal. "In a petition to the justices, Holmes' attorney, Charles Ogletree, argued the Louisiana Supreme Court did not "review the extensive mitigating circumstances that limited Ms. Holmes's moral culpability and compare them to the mitigating circumstances presented in similar cases. The [state] court also failed to consider that petitioner's co-defendant received a death sentence and that the prosecutor stated at the co-defendant's trial that he (and not the petitioner) was the more culpable party", reports CNN.

Brandy Holmes may be high functioning for someone with FAS as she was able to contribute to such a serious crime, but, mitigating circumstances should and must be considered. The Supreme Courts banning of executions for the mentally retarded is a good thing, but, the justices established no clear benchmark on IQ test results to guide criminal courts which has created loopholes for certain defendants like Holmes to fall into. Holmes has been living with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome; a life sentence given to her by her mother, maybe the State of Louisiana should do the same!

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