According to his most recent test, Marvin Wilson has an IQ of 61 (most states bar executions for those with IQs at 70 or below). That puts him below the first percentile of human intelligence, and he’s in an even lower percentile for adaptive functioning. Despite the US Supreme Court’s ten-year old ban on executing the “mentally retarded” (Atkins v. Virginia), Marvin Wilson faces execution in Texas on August 7.
In Georgia, the case of Warren Hill recently exposed that state’s uniquely strict requirement that “mental retardation” be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” before an execution can be declared unconstitutional.
Texas uses a more reasonable “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof. But the Lone Star State has found another way to keep killing the intellectually disabled. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
Teresa Lewis was executed in 2010 despite being assessed with “borderline mental retardation.”
While we wait with bated breath for important human rights related end-of-term Supreme Court decisions – healthcare, immigration and juvenile life without parole among them – we look back to a landmark death penalty case decided ten years ago today, Atkins v. Virginia.
In Atkins, the Court held that executing individuals with intellectual disabilities (known then as “mental retardation”) was “cruel and unusual punishment” and prohibited by our Constitution’s Eight Amendment.
Unfortunately it was left to the states to define “mental retardation” and decide how to comply with the ruling, leading to multiple definitions and procedures in different states. To define intellectual disabilities, an IQ score of 70 has been widely used as a dividing line, but there can be multiple IQ tests with different scores, and other factors that suggest greater, or lesser, intellectual disability, so even this solid seeming number has not clarified things much.
The result has been a chaotic mish-mash in which dozens of death sentences have been reduced because of successful Atkins claims, yet several people have been executed despite claims that seem to be equally compelling:
SEE THE REST OF THIS POST