In 2002, the US Supreme Court outlawed the execution of people with ‘mental retardation’ in Atkins v. Virginia. Now, ten years later, will the State of Georgia listen? Shockingly, Georgia plans to execute Warren Hill, a man with a unanimously confirmed intellectually disability, on Monday, July 15.
Mr. Hill’s intellectual disability case has outraged citizens in the U.S. and around the world. The State experts who had previously denied Mr. Hill’s ‘mental retardation’ diagnosis (the legal term still used) have come forward with a changed mind. Based on advances in the field, the three doctors reviewed Mr. Hill’s case and revised their original diagnoses this year. Now, every doctor who has examined him agrees: Mr. Hill has mental retardation.
Yet Georgia plans to move forward with Mr. Hill’s execution on Monday. The reason provided? Technicalities.
In April, a Georgia court ruled that it could not consider the new doctor findings because of procedural barriers. In fact, no court has ever had the chance to consider this critical new information on its merits. What’s more – the Georgia courts themselves have repeatedly affirmed the existence of Mr. Hill’s disability. In 2002, and again in 2012, a Georgia state court judge stated that Mr. Hill is a person with mental retardation – but said that Mr. Hill did not meet Georgia’s unique standard for legally proving it – the strictest in the nation. Indeed, Georgia is the only state in the country that requires a defendant to prove mental retardation “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Now, as a result of procedural technicalities and the State’s impossibly strict burden of proof, Georgia risks executing a man who is intellectually disabled.
That is why Mr. Hill’s case has received extensive and diverse outpouring of support from mental health experts, intellectual disability organizations, legal experts, several of the jurors from trial, and even President Jimmy Carter and Rosalyn Carter. The family of the victim also strongly supports clemency for Mr. Hill.
The Atlantic columnist Andrew Cohen described Mr. Hill’s case as an illustration of “the width of the gulf that exists in America today between the rule of law that people think they have and the rule of law they actually do have” (http://goo.gl/YfMtq). Many people still have faith in the rule of law in our country – let’s give them reason to by staying Mr. Hill’s execution.
Executing Warren Hill would violate the U.S. Constitution. Plain and simple. The U.S. Supreme Court is now the only court that can turn words into action and ensure that we do not put to death a mentally disabled man. The clock is ticking and only pressing pause can bring justice.
*Please note that ‘intellectual disability’ is now the proper term for ‘mental retardation.’ In the legal community, ‘mental retardation’ is still the term used by the courts. This term is only employed to avoid confusion among readers.
Photo by bloomsberries released under a Creative Commons No Derivatives license.