INTELLECTUAL DISABILITY: Federal Appeals Court Says Evidence of Mental Retardation Is Too Late

On April 22, a divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit denied Warren Hill’s appeal to halt his execution based on new evidence of his intellectual disability. The Court ruled that Hill’s claim of intellectual disability (mental retardation) was presented in an earlier petition and cannot be presented again, despite the new evidence. The judges also held that, even if Hill’s claim is a new one, it only challenges his eligibility for the death penalty, not his underlying guilt, and is therefore improper in a second petition. In a dissenting opinion, Judge Rosemary Barkett said, “There is no question that Georgia will be executing a mentally retarded man because all seven mental health experts who have ever evaluated Hill, both the state’s and Hill’s, now unanimously agree that he is mentally retarded.” She also stated, “The idea that courts are not permitted to acknowledge that a mistake has been made which would bar an execution is quite incredible for a country that not only prides itself on having the quintessential system of justice but attempts to export it to the world as a model of fairness…. [The federal habeas statute] should not be construed to require the unconstitutional execution of a mentally retarded offender who, by presenting evidence that virtually guarantees that he can establish his mental retardation, is able to satisfy even the preposterous burden of proof Georgia demands.”

(B. Rankin, “Court lifts execution stay, but state out of lethal drugs,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 23, 2013). Read full text of the court’s ruling. See Intellectual Disability.