Georgia judge denies death row inmate’s challenge to state intellectual disability standard

Georgia judge denies death row inmate’s challenge to state intellectual disability standard

[JURIST] A judge from Georgia’s Towaliga Judicial Circuit [official website] ruled Monday that death row inmate Warren Lee Hill [JURIST news archive] has failed to meet the state’s requirement to prove intellectual disability beyond a reasonable doubt as a bar to execution. Hill’s lawyers argued Georgia’s high standard for proving intellectual disability is inadequate because psychiatric diagnoses are subject to a degree of uncertainty. Hill’s lawyers based their argument on a set of US Supreme Court [official website] decisions. First in 2002 in the case of Atkins v. Virginia [opinion, PDF] the Court held “death is not a suitable punishment for a mentally retarded criminal,” reasoning that their disability “places them at special risk of wrongful execution.” Additionally in May the Supreme Court in Hall v. Florida [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] struck down [JURIST report] a Florida law that held the death penalty for criminal defendants whose IQ is greater than 70 violates the Eighth Amendment [text] of the US Constitution, and the court found a defendant whose IQ is close to the 70-point cutoff has the right to present additional testimony of his or her mental disability. Georgia sets a high bar for defendants to prove intellectual disability for death row inmates beyond a reasonable doubt and the state court’s interpretation of Georgia law is regarded as the toughest burden of proof in the nation [AP report]. The Georgia standard has repeatedly been upheld by state and federal courts. In Monday’s ruling Judge Thomas Wilson declared the court is “procedurally barred” from considering Hill’s latest challenge because he failed to present any new evidence to support his petition.

The death penalty for individuals with disabilities [JURIST backgrounder] has emerged as highly controversial legal issue in recent years and Hill’s case [Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) report] has garnered national attention. In May the Supreme Court of Georgia [official website] ruled [JURIST report] a state law that makes the identity of an execution drug supplier a “confidential state secret” is constitutional and in a 5-2 decision the court reversed a lower court ruling that granted a stay of execution to death row inmate Warren Lee Hill. Hill has come within hours of execution on three occasions, most recently in July 2013 [JURIST report]. JURIST Guest Columnist Terrica Ganzy, Staff Attorney for the Southern Center for Human Rights [advocacy website], argues [JURIST op-ed] that Georgia’s beyond a reasonable doubt standard for finding mental retardation in capital offenses is a nearly insurmountable standard and the Supreme Court of Georgia should consider striking it down. In February the Supreme Court of Georgia rejected [JURIST report] claims by Hill that the Board of Corrections [official website] violated the Georgia Administrative Procedure Act [text] by not holding a public hearing before changing Georgia’s lethal injection execution procedure [DPIC backgrounder]. Furthermore in July 2012 the same court unanimously granted a stay [JURIST report] of execution for Hill 90 minutes before he was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection.