The proposed legislation would allow a hearing before trial on an offender's mental condition and permit a judge to rule out the death penalty if severe mental illness is proven. If the judge keeps the death penalty on the table, the issue could be raised again during the trial.
Current death row inmates could also challenge their sentences on the same grounds. The bill does not affect defendants who plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
Prosecutors say the legislation opens the door to challenges from practically every inmate on Ohio's death row. Bill supporters estimate only about 15 percent of those prisoners might have legitimate claims, or about 20 of the 140 inmates currently sentenced to die in Ohio.
Illnesses covered by the bill include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. Ohio would be the second state with such a law if enacted after Connecticut, which has since abolished the death penalty. Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee have considered similar measures.
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