OK Senate advances bill changing death row competency exam process

TULSA, Okla. — The Oklahoma State Senate passed a bill Monday afternoon that prohibits death row inmates from having competency hearings until an actual execution date has been set.

State Senator James Leewright (R- Bristow) authored State Senate Bill 1738 that if it becomes law would only allow death row inmates to have a single competency hearing when “death is imminent”. The bill hopes to cut down on death row inmates and their advocates seeking multiple competency hearings in an effort to both delay their execution and try to get themselves off of death row.

>>>MORE: Oklahoma executed death row inmate Gilbert Postelle on Feb. 17 for killing four people in 2005 in Oklahoma County.

“Competency can come and go, and you’ve got to remember, and you have to remember with these hearings, the families have to go through this trauma again,” Leewright said.

Leewright said on the State Senate floor Monday that this bill was requested by Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor who said his office is trying to reduce the number of times a victim’s family has to go back to court after a suspect has been deemed guilty and already sentenced, sometimes years later. Families are notified every time a hearing on their case is to occur.

“We’ve found that competency can go in and out, and so instead of having multiples on death row, the hearing on competency would only happen when death is imminent,” he said.

Federal court and Supreme Court rulings have deemed it unconstitutional for an incompetent person to be executed for a crime because they don’t and cannot rationally understand why they are being subjected to the ultimate final penalty anymore. In some cases, mental health treatment is able to correct some reasons for incompetency, and a person is able to once again face their sentence.

SB 1738 passed 38-8, and it now heads to the Oklahoma House of Representatives for consideration.