State Procedures for Determining Intellectual Disabilities in Death Penalty Cases Must Follow Established Medical Practice

In 2002, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, (2002), holding it violates the Eighth Amendment to execute a person with intellectual disabilities, also know as mental retardation.

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Hall v. Florida, Case No. 12-10882 (May 27, 2014), recognizing that state procedures must follow “established medical practice” to determine whether a person is ineligible for the death penalty because of his intellectual disabilities.  The Court reminded:

The death penalty is the gravest sentence our society may impose. Persons facing that most severe sanction must have a fair opportunity to show that the Constitution prohibits their execution. Florida’s law contravenes our Nation’s commitment to dignity and its duty to teach human decency as the mark of a civilized world. The States are laboratories for experimentation, but those experiments may not deny the basic dignity the Constitution protects.

South Carolina’s intellectual disabilities procedure is set forth in Franklin v. Maynard, 356 S.C. 276, 588 S.E.2d 604 (2003).  Initially, “the trial judge shall make the determination in a pre-trial hearing, if so requested by the defendant or the prosecution, after hearing evidence, including expert testimony, from both the defendant and the State.”  Id. 356 S.C. at 279, 588 S.E.2d at 606.  If the judge finds the accused suffers from intellectual disabilities, then the prosecution is barred from seeking the death penalty.  If the judge does not find the accused suffers from intellectual disabilities, then the jurors consider the evidence and make the determination.

Please click these links to read the court opinions in Hall v. Florida and Franklin v. Maynard.