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September 15, 2005

Notable Indiana ruling on implementing Atkins

Earlier this week, the Indiana Supreme Court issued an interesting decision in Pruitt v. Indiana, No. 15S00-0109-DP-393 (Ind. Sept. 13, 2005) (available here), concerning the procedures for assessing a capital defendant's claim of mental retardation.  Indiana prohibited the execution of the mentally retarded by statute in 1994, but that statute places the burden on the defendant to prove his mental retardation by clear and convincing evidence.  In a pre-Atkins decision, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld this procedural approach, but now in Pruitt the court decide that Atkins has changed the constitutional landscape so that now "the state may not require proof of mental retardation by clear and convincing evidence."

Interestingly, though the Pruitt court discusses Apprendi, Ring and Blakely later in its opinion on a separate issue, the court does not consider whether those precedents might require the state to prove the absence of mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt.  (Recall, as detailed here, that last month a New Jersey concluded that "In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970), together with Ring, requires as a matter of due process, that the absence of retardation be established by the State beyond a reasonable doubt.")  The Indiana Supreme Court essentially decides in Pruitt that it is constitutionally permissible to require the defendant to prove his mental retardation by the preponderance of the evidence.

In footnote 1 of the Pruitt opinion, the court notes the diversity of state statutes on this issue (and thereby highlights the inevitability of a lot more litigation that surely will culminate in a Supreme Court case):

[By statute,] Georgia requires the defendant to prove his mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt.  In addition to Indiana, Arizona, Colorado, and Florida require the defendant to prove he is mentally retarded by clear and convincing evidence.  Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Tennessee require proof by the preponderance of the evidence. The federal government, Connecticut, Kansas, and Kentucky do not set a standard of proof.

September 15, 2005 at 01:42 AM | Permalink

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Comments

In my view, the Indiana Supreme Court got this one exactly right: the Supreme Court has said in the past that states may not require persons to prove their competence to stand trial by clear and convincing evidence but that persons may be required to prove their competence by a preponderance of the evidence.

And there is already a considerable jurisprudence from federal circuits, especially the Fifth (US v. Webster) and Fourth (Jones), which, in my view, demonstrates why, contrary to the NJ Supreme Court, the Apprendi line has nothing to do with the absence of mental retardation. (See also the article in the Journal of Legislation on Implementing Atkins.)

Posted by: John Stuart | Sep 15, 2005 12:59:07 PM

California also requires proof of mental retardation by a preponderance of the evidence. Cal.Pen. Code section 1376

Posted by: ward campbell | Sep 15, 2005 3:13:00 PM

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