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January 16, 2009

Supreme Court takes up intriguing capital case involving mental retardation

As detailed in this SCOTUSblog post, the Supreme Court granted cert on six new cases this afternoon.  Though a number of the new cases involve criminal justice issues, the one case most likely to interest sentencing fans involves application of the death penalty to a potentially mentally retarded defendant.  Here is how Lyle Denniston describes the issue and case at SCOTUSblog:

Whether a state is constitutionally barred from challenging the claim of mental retardation of an individual it seeks to execute for crime, if a state court had once found the person to be retarded even while upholding a death sentence.  The case of Bobby v. Bies (08-598) involves an Ohio case that basically involves a “double jeopardy” question.  Specifically, it is whether it is unconstitutional double jeopardy if a state begins a new challenge to a convicted killer’s mental retardation, if a state court had previously found the individual to be retarded — thus possibly settling an ultimate issue so that it could not be pursued anew later.

Though the procedural history of this capital case leads me to suspect that some Justices were wearing their "error-correction" hats when deciding to take up the State of Ohio's complaints about the Sixth Circuit's reversal of a death sentence here.  But the interplay of Atkins and double jeopardy issues perhaps means this new case should go on my list of potential sleepers for this Term.

January 16, 2009 at 03:14 PM | Permalink

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