State Has Gone From 'First to Worst' in its Handling of Mental Disability and the Death Penalty
(New York) – Amnesty International said today Georgia has gone from "first to worst" in protecting the mentally disabled from being executed by deciding to go forward with the execution of Warren Hill on Monday. The human rights organization urged the Supreme Court to intervene to prevent Hill's execution, which it said runs counter to the spirit of the Supreme Court's ten-year-old Atkins decision.
In its 2002 Atkins decision, the Supreme Court ruled execution of persons with "mentally retardation" to be unconstitutional, because their disability "places them at special risk of wrongful execution." The process for determining "mental retardation" was left up to the states and while in 1988 Georgia became the first state to ban executions of persons with mental disabilities, it established an impossible standard for proving disability – "beyond a reasonable doubt" – the highest standard of proof in the law.
Due to the inexact nature of assessments of mental disability, this standard is virtually unattainable, said Amnesty.
Of the 33 remaining death penalty states, only Georgia still requires death row inmates to prove mental disability "beyond a reasonable doubt." Other states have passed Georgia by and now employ a more realistic "preponderance of the evidence" standard. Hill was found by a Georgia judge to be "mentally retarded" by a preponderance of the evidence.
"Sadly, Georgia has gone from first to worst on this issue," said Suzanne Nossel, executive director, Amnesty International USA. "Once a leader in trying to ban executions of those with mental disabilities, Georgia now trails the other states with an anachronistic law that fails to prevent such executions."
"It's clear that Georgia's rogue approach on this issue may lead to the execution of someone whose mental capacity is significantly diminished," said Nossel. "In other states, Hill would not face the ultimate punishment due to his disability. Unless the Supreme Court steps in to prevent this execution, the state of Georgia will have committed a terrible injustice."
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.