Supreme Court rules state court unreasonably denied man on death row mental capacity hearing
Supreme Court rules state court unreasonably denied man on death row mental capacity hearing

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 Thursday in Brumfield v. Cain [SCOTUSblog materials] that a man who was convicted in 1993 for killing a police officer in Louisiana is entitled to have a new hearing to determine if he is mentally disabled, making him ineligible for the death penalty. The court decided that Kevan Brumfield, who was convicted and sentenced to death in 1993 for killing Cpl. Betty Smothers, must have his intellectual capacity reevaluated under the 2002 ruling Atkins v. Virginia [Oyez Project backgrounder]. The court in Atkins ruled that a it was a violation of the Eighth Amendment [text] to execute a person convicted of a capital crime if that person is mentally disabled. Writing for the court in Brumfield, Justice Sonia Sotomayor found that a Louisiana state court unreasonably found that Brumfield was not entitled to a hearing on his mental capacity. The decision vacated an earlier ruling [opinion, PDF] by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website].

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito filed dissenting opinions, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice John Roberts, saying that the ruling was intruding on the state of Louisiana’s right to enforce its laws as it sees fit. The court granted certiorari to the case in December and heard oral arguments [JURIST reports] in March.