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.
Jurors and the family of the victim have stated that a life sentence, not death, is in order in this case. Georgia experts on developmental disabilities agree. The Georgia Board can respect those wishes by commuting Warren Hill’s sentence and ensuring that their state does not put a man to death in violation of the constitution of the United States.