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October 24, 2006

NJ Supreme Court decides on Atkins procedures

In an interesting 5-2 decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court in State v. Jiminez, No. A-50-2005 (N.J. Oct. 24, 2006) (available here), has rejected lower court's ruling that, after the Supreme Court's ruling in Atkins, the state seeking to impose a death sentence must prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant is not retarded.  The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that the absence of mental retardation is not akin to a capital trigger, and that the defendant has the burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he is retarded. The Court summarized its holding in this way:

As noted above, every state considering the issue has determined that a defendant raising a claim of mental retardation bears the burden of proof on the claim.  We agree with those determinations.  We hold further that the claim must be proved to the jury by a preponderance of the evidence at the close of the guilt-phase trial and before the penalty phase trial begins.  Nonetheless, we concur with the Appellate Division that in those cases where "reasonable minds cannot differ as to the existence of retardation" a judge should decide the Atkins claim pre-trial thus avoiding a capital prosecution altogether.  The requirement that a jury decide the issue at the close of the guilt-phase trial is not constitutionally based, but rather, is imposed by the Court in the exercise of its general supervisory authority over trial administration.

October 24, 2006 at 10:42 AM | Permalink


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