List of United States Supreme Court cases involving mental health

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued numerous rulings regarding mental health and how society treats and regards the ill. While some rulings applied very narrowly, perhaps to only one individual, other cases have had great influence over wide areas.


Year Case Ruling Right
1999 Albertsons Inc. v. Kirkingburg Not all individuals who have some sort of physical difficulty are "disabled" under the ADA. Instead, those who believe they suffer from a disability must prove their claim on a case-by-case basis by showing that their alleged disability substantially impacts a major life activity.[1] ???

Criminal competency[edit]

Year Case Ruling Right
1960 Dusky v. United States Affirming a criminal defendant's constitutional right to have a competency evaluation before proceeding to trial, and setting the standard for determination of such competence. BOR, 14th
1966 Pate v. Robinson A hearing about competency to stand trial is required under the due process clause of the Constitution of the United States.[2] BOR, 14th
1972 Jackson v. Indiana Criminal defendants who have been found incompetent to stand trial are not permitted to be held indefinitely. There must be some possibility of becoming competent in a reasonable amount of time BOR, 14th
1975 Drope v. Missouri When deciding whether to evaluate a criminal defendant's competency, the court must consider any evidence suggestive of mental illness, even one factor alone in some circumstances. Therefore, the threshold for obtaining a competency evaluation is low. When the issue is raised, the motion should be granted. The defendant must not bear all the burden for raising the issue. BOR, 14th
1985 Ake v. Oklahoma Indigent criminal defendants have a right to a competency evaluation BOR, 14th
1996 Cooper v. Oklahoma the burden for proving incompetency is only preponderance; due process would be violated if the burden is required to be carried by clear and convincing evidence.

Death penalty[edit]

Year Case Ruling Right
1976 Profitt v. Florida Permitted comparison of mitigating and aggravating factors to decide death penalty decisions.[3] See also Furman v. Georgia (1972), and Gregg v. Georgia (1976) 1st
1986 Ford v. Wainwright Preventing the execution [capital punishment] of the insane, requiring an evaluation of competency and an evidentiary hearing 8th
1989 Penry v. Lynaugh Executing persons with mental retardation is not a violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Overturned in Atkins v. Virginia (2002)) 8th
1993 Godinez v. Moran Competency to stand trial includes the abilities to plead guilty and to waive the right to counsel 1st
2002 Atkins v. Virginia The execution of mentally retarded defendants violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. 8th
2005 Roper v. Simmons In a ruling that followed Wainwright (in assessing the nature of cruel and unusual punishments), children may not be given the death penalty 1st
2010 Graham v. Florida Likewise, children may not be given life sentences (without possibility of parole) for offenses that do not include murder 1st


Year Case Ruling Right
1978 Lockett v. Ohio Sentencing authorities must have the discretion to consider every possible mitigating factor, rather than being limited to a specific list of factors. 1st
2020 Kahler v. Kansas The due process clause of the United States Constitution does not require states to adopt a definition of the insanity defense that turns on whether the defendant knew that his or her actions were morally wrong. 14th, 8th


Year Case Ruling Right
1981 Estelle v. Smith The same doctor that evaluated the criminal defendant for competency also testified at the penalty phase of the trial. That violated the defendant's right against self incrimination. 5th, 6th


Year Case Ruling Right
1962 Robinson v. California A state cannot make a person's status as an addict a crime; only behaviors can be criminal. 1st
1968 Powell v. Texas Similarly to Robinson v. California, a state may not criminalize the status of alcoholism itself; the state may only prohibit behaviors. 8th

Right to treatment[edit]

Year Case Ruling Right
1976 Estelle v. Gamble Established that prisoners are entitled to a minimum level of treatment. 8th

Right to refuse treatment[edit]

Year Case Ruling Right
1978 Rennie v. Klein An involuntarily committed, legally competent patient who refused medication had a right to professional medical review of the treating psychiatrist's decision. The Court left the decision-making process to medical professionals. 14th
1990 Washington v. Harper Prisoners have only a very limited right to refuse psychotropic medications in prison. The needs of the institution take precedence over the prisoners' rights. However, there must be a formal institutional hearing, the prisoner must be found to be dangerous to himself or others, the prisoner must be diagnosed with a serious mental illness, and the mental health care professional must state that the medication prescribed is in the prisoner's best interest. 14th
1992 Riggins v. Nevada In a ruling very similar to Harper, the Court found that the State may force administration of psychotropic medications to a pre-trial detainee, if it establishes a medical need for the drug, and a need for the detainee's safety and that of others. To the Harper requirements, they added "less restrictive alternative" language, which requires the State to document that there are no behavioral, environmental, or other measures available that will be equally effective. 6th, 14th

Civil commitment[edit]

Year Case Ruling Right
1972 Jackson v. Indiana Due process requires that the nature and duration of commitment bear some reasonable relation to the purpose for which the individual is committed." Reasoning that if commitment is for treatment and betterment of individuals, it must be accompanied by adequate treatment, several lower courts recognized a due process right 14th
1979 Addington v. Texas Raised the burden of proof requirement, in order to civilly commit a person, from preponderance, to clear and convincing. Also, permitted the courts to defer judgment regarding a person's need for commitment, to the doctor(s) 14th
1979 Parham v. J.R. The Court ruled that minors may be civilly committed to mental health facilities without an adversary hearing; in essence, parents do have the right to commit their children. 14th
1982 Youngberg v. Romeo Each individual has a due process protected interest in freedom from confinement and personal restraint; an interest in reducing the degree of confinement continues even for those individuals who are properly committed. freedom from undue physical restraint and from unsafe conditions of confinement 14th
1975 O'Connor v. Donaldson A finding of mental illness alone is not sufficient grounds for confining a person against their will. They must be found to be a danger to others or incapable of surviving safely without institutional care. 14th
1993 Heller v. Doe The Court found that mentally retarded persons are not a 'suspect' class of persons (requiring the same level of protection as racial minorities); thus, governments are free to enact almost any legislation or rule to civilly commit them, and the courts will not intervene, short of illegal or ridiculous actions (called 'rational' scrutiny).[4] 14th
2000 Seling v. Young Washington State's Community Protection Act of 1990 authorizes the civil commitment of "sexually violent predators," or persons who suffer from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes them likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence. After his imprisonment for committing six rapes, Andre Brigham Young was scheduled to be released from prison in 1990. Prior to his release, the state successfully filed a petition to commit Young as a sexually violent predator. Ultimately, Young instituted a federal habeas action. The court determined that the Community Protection Act was civil and, therefore, it could not violate the double jeopardy and ex post facto guarantees. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the case turned on whether the Act was punitive "as applied" to Young.[5] 5th


  1. ^ "Albertsons Inc. v. Kirkingburg". Oyez. Retrieved December 3, 2020.
  2. ^ "Pate v. Robinson". Casebriefs. Retrieved 2017-06-28.
  3. ^[dead link]
  4. ^ "Heller v. Doe". Oyez. Retrieved December 3, 2020.
  5. ^ "Seling v. Young". Oyez. Retrieved May 24, 2022.

See also[edit]