Regardless of the protections intended by Atkins v. Virginia, executions continue to proceed in this country of Death Row inmates with significant mental challenges. It’s something that Terry Lenamon is dedicated to fighting as part of his work in defending individuals facing capital punishment in the death penalty phases of their criminal trials.
Sadly, state governments are still proceeding with executions of people suffering serious mental illness or severe mental disability (which some SCOTUS opinions reference as “mental retardation”). Consider the Texas case of schizophrenic Scott Panetti with its eleventh hour fight for a stay of execution last month.
Now, Georgia has set January 27, 2015, as the execution date for Warren Hill, a man whose intellectual disabilities are not in controversy. If Hill had been convicted in Florida or Texas, even, he might well not be facing capital punishment because of his mental condition.
However, because Atkins allows each state to set up its own procedures for deciding mental conditions that prevent the death penalty under constitutional law as being cruel and unusual, Georgia is moving forward.
Hill’s lawyers are seeking a stay based upon the argument that this legal standard is unconstitutional in much the same way as the Supreme Court determined in Hall v. Florida concerning the Florida standard.