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September 26, 2014

"Hall v. Florida: The Death of Georgia's Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Standard"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Adam Lamparello now available on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Welcome: We’re Glad Georgia is On Your Mind.

Georgia is on many minds as Warren Hill prepares for a state court hearing to once again begin the process of trying to show that he is intellectually disabled.  As Warren Hill continues to flirt with death, one must ask, is Georgia really going to execute someone that nine experts and a lower court twice found to be mentally retarded?  The answer is yes, and the Georgia courts do not understand why we are scratching our heads.  The answer is simple: executing an intellectually disabled man is akin to strapping a ten-year old child in the electric chair.

Georgia’s standard for determining intellectual disability -- beyond a reasonable doubt -- is itself intellectually disabled.  In 1986, Georgia became the first state to ban executions of the intellectually disabled.  It should also be the next state to eliminate a standard that, as a practical matter, ensures execution of the intellectually disabled.

Ultimately, the Georgia legislature must explain why it chooses to execute defendants like Warren Hill, and the Georgia courts must explain why they allow it to happen. Intellectually disabled defendants do not appreciate or understand why they are being executed.  Their crimes may be unspeakable, but the punishment is never proportional. Until Georgia provides an answer that extends beyond platitudes and biblically inspired notions of justice, the fact will remain that executing Warren Hill is as heinous as the crimes he committed.  The only acceptable answer should come from the Supreme Court, holding that Georgia’s beyond a reasonable doubt standard violates the Eighth Amendment.

September 26, 2014 at 10:57 AM | Permalink


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I'm finishing a book on a similar subject. Everyone agreed Albert Dyer had the mind of a 10-year-old but he was executed for the murder of three little girls. Not only was he "feeble minded," the only evidence against him was a false confession. When the jury found him guilty he asked, "Does that mean I get probation?" Forensic science proves him innocent.

A preview website: Colder Case, How California Executed the Wrong Man

Forensic scientists and pathologists are welcome to tell me how wrong I am.

Posted by: George | Sep 26, 2014 4:02:06 PM

Sorry, the link was supposed to go to coldercase.com

Posted by: George | Sep 26, 2014 5:45:08 PM

When Florida v. Hall came out, I commenting that Justice Alito's point during oral arguments was spot on that burden of proof mattered. While I think it was more likely than not that Hall was intellectually disabled, it was a closer case whether there was clear and convincing evidence (ultimately, I think there was even that). But I think the Court should have disavowed the Clear and Convincing Evidence standard entirely and said that this is something too important to risk that many wrongful convictions. By that same token, a Beyond a Reasonable Doubt standard clearly would go too far.

But as long as no court has told them no, I can see why Georgia wants to keep it going. They get to apply the Supreme Court mandate while insuring it is effectively a nullity. It's a shame, but I don't think anyone should find it surprising.

Posted by: Erik M | Sep 27, 2014 7:23:54 AM

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