by Dr. Margaret Nygren Executive Director and CEO of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, the oldest professional society concerned with intellectual disability.
Objectively, how many different doctors must concur on a diagnosis before it is considered definitive? For that medical diagnosis to be respected by the law, how many courts need to agree? In the case of Warren Hill, a Georgia man with lifelong, documented intellectual disability, every doctor who has evaluated him (seven doctors, including those who testified for the state) and two judges (in 2002 and 2012) have found him to be a person with intellectual disability. Yet, despite the clarity of his diagnosis, and despite the constitutional protection for persons with intellectual disability from execution, Mr. Hill faces lethal injection in just days, on Tuesday, January 27, unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes.
Warren Hill grew up in extreme poverty in rural Georgia, and, like too many adults in our criminal justice system today, did not receive a formal diagnosis and helpful therapies as a child. In fact, at the schools Mr. Hill attended in the 1960s and early 1970s, special education was not available, and several of his former teachers have submitted sworn affidavits that had special education services been available, they would have recommended them for Mr. Hill, who clearly showed signs of the deficits in functioning, which mark intellectual disability in his childhood.
The organization I lead, the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, AAIDD, was the first organization the U.S. to help produce a working clinical definition of intellectual disability, formerly called “mental retardation,” and among the first to promote the provision of special education services in public schools. The U.S. Supreme Court used AAIDD’s clinical definition when it first ruled to protect prisoners with intellectual disability from capital punishment in Atkins v. Virginia in 2002.