Tuesday night, Georgia executed a man for murder — despite a panel of experts unanimously labelling him as intellectually disabled.
As such, his death at the hands of the state may have violated the US Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
While serving a life sentence for murdering his girlfriend in 1985, the man who was executed, Warren Hill, fatally beat one of his fellow inmates. The court system sentenced him to die for his crime despite his lifelong intellectual disability.
Here’s why the execution of Hill, 54, may violate the Constitution. A Supreme Court case in 2003, Atkins v. Virginia, found executing “mentally retarded” individuals violates the Eight Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
All experts, including three appointed by Georgia, concluded that a “preponderance of evidence” showed that Hill was intellectually disabled. Georgia, however, requires proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a defendant is intellectually disabled in order to spare them from the death penalty.
This higher burden of proof essentially means that it’s more likely the state will execute intellectually disabled people. Georgia is the only state to require such a strict burden of proof in these kinds of cases.
In court papers, Hill’s lawyers also argued that Georgia’s standard violated the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Hall v. Florida. That decision found Florida was too rigid in setting a strict IQ cutoff of 70 to spare people from the death penalty.
“Like Florida’s strict IQ cutoff at issue in Hall, Georgia’s beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard for intellectual disability ‘den[ies individuals] the basic dignity the Constitution protects’ and ‘contravenes our Nation’s . . . duty to teach human decency as the mark of the civilized world,” Hills lawyers argued.
Despite all of this, Hill was pronounced dead at 7:55 p.m. by a lethal injection.
Hill’s case continues a wave of controversy over states executing the mentally ill and disabled. In August 2013, Florida executed John Ferguson, a 65-year-old schizophrenic man who called himself the “Prince of God.” The Supreme Court declined to hear a final argument from his lawyers. Advocates also said Andrew Reid Lackey, an Alabama man executed in July 2013, suffered from mental illness.
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