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
Georgia will not be able to execute Warren Hill on Monday. He has been granted a temporary stay so the state of Georgia can sort out whether the sudden switch to a one-drug lethal injection protocol last week violated state laws guaranteeing public input on important administrative procedures (like killing people).
This is good news, in that Hill will not immediately be put to death, but there is no question that Georgia fully intends to execute a man with an IQ of 70 whom state judges have declared to be “mentally retarded” by all legal standards except the “beyond a reasonable doubt” bar used only by Georgia.
That the stay was granted on the lethal injection question allows the state of Georgia to evade further scrutiny of the way it handles capital punishment for the mentally disabled. For now, the Supreme Court, which banned executions of those with intellectual disabilities ten years ago, will not be reviewing Warren Hill’s case or the unique Georgia law upon which the state bases its right to kill him.
Warren Hill is scheduled for execution July 18
Georgia was the first state in the U.S. to ban the execution of persons with intellectual disabilities (known then as the “mentally retarded”), passing a law in 1988. That was 14 years before the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the practice nationwide in 2002. But on July 18, Georgia is scheduled to execute Warren Hill despite the fact that a state judge declared him to be “mentally retarded” by a “preponderance of the evidence”.
As this New York Times editorial points out, Hill still faces execution because Georgia is the only state that requires a prisoner to establish his intellectual disabilities “beyond a reasonable doubt” – an extraordinarily high standard. Other states have more realistic requirements like the aforementioned “preponderance of the evidence” standard.
The courts have been unable to address this situation in which Georgia seems to be lurching inexorably towards an unconstitutional execution. But the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles can still step in, uphold justice, and exercise mercy where the judiciary has fallen short.
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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:
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