Death penalty

  • January 23, 2015
    Guest Post

    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.

  • December 2, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    In The New York Times, Mark Landler reports on President Obama’s announcement of new standards for police gear and body cameras for police officers. ACS hosted a panel on police militarization in November that featured discussion of more significant reforms to police policy that legislators could undertake.

    Noah Feldman writes in Bloomberg View about the Elonis case and asserts that “Anthony Elonis doesn’t deserve sympathy or admiration – but he does deserve for the government to prove that he meant to threaten others before he goes to jail.”

    In The Washington Post, Paul Waldman argues that the Supreme Court should be the biggest issue of the 2016 campaign.

    Caitlin Borgmann writes in the Los Angeles Times that the Supreme Court should take up a case about laws regulating abortion clinics in order to send a message to state legislatures that pass “disingenuous laws designed to shut down clinics.”

    Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz report in The New York Times that New York City will expand public health services throughout its criminal justice system.

  • December 2, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Nancy Leong, Associate Professor, University of Denver Sturm College of Law. Follow her on Twitter @NancyLeong.

    Scott Panetti is scheduled for execution in Texas tomorrow, Wednesday, December 3.

    Mr. Panetti has suffered from schizophrenia and other mental illness for over thirty years. He first exhibited signs of a psychotic disorder as a teenager. Between 1978 and 1992, he was hospitalized for mental illness fifteen times. He developed a delusion that he was engaged in spiritual warfare with Satan. He tried to exorcize his home by burying furniture in the backyard because, he claimed, the devil was in it.

    In 1992, Mr. Panetti went off his medication, shaved his head, and dressed in camouflage fatigues. He went to his in-laws house and murdered his mother and father-in-law in front of his wife and daughter. After turning himself in, Mr. Panetti blamed the crime on “Sarge,” one of his recurring hallucinations. He explained that God had ensured that his victims had not suffered.

    A trial judge allowed Mr. Panetti to represent himself at the subsequent trial and sentencing, even disregarding the concerns of the prosecutor.  Predictably, the proceedings were, in the words of Mr. Panetti’s stand-by attorney, “truly a judicial farce.” Mr. Panetti wore a cowboy costume and a purple bandana to court. He attempted to subpoena John F. Kennedy, the Pope, Jesus Christ, and his own alter ego, “Sarge,” among 200 others. His statements were rambling and incoherent. He fell asleep during trial. While describing the shooting, he assumed the personality of “Sarge” and narrated the events in the third person. He pointed an imaginary rifle at jurors, visibly frightening them. And he rejected a plea bargain that could have saved his life.

  • November 24, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Brandon L. Garrett, Professor of Law, University of Virginia School of Law. Since the 2011 publication of Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, Professor Garrett has written widely on issues of criminal procedure, scientific evidence, corporate crime, and the law. This fall, Harvard University Press published his new book, Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations.

    “He’s a grown man today, he was just a boy back then,” said Ricky Jackson upon his release from prison last week.  “I don’t hate him.” Jackson spent 39 years behind bars, more than any other person exonerated in the U.S., according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Jackson was speaking of the 12 year-old who had identified him and two others as murderers, and whose testimony in 1975 sent him to Ohio’s death row. Last week, the eyewitness admitted his testimony was “all lies.” There was no other evidence in this case: no forensic evidence, physical evidence, or other witnesses.  The exoneration highlights just how malleable eyewitness testimony can be, and how important it is to get it right. 

    This Fall, the National Academy of Sciences published an important report “Identifying the Culprit: Assessing Eyewitness Identification.” I was a member of the committee that produced the report. The report evaluates decades of research on eyewitness memory and it details scientific procedures that can help to prevent error. 

  • November 17, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Ken Armstrong writes for The Marshall Project about how poor lawyering and inflexible law  lead to lost appeals for condemned men.

    At ACSblog, Jeremy Leaming discusses King v. Burwell, and characterizes it as “another tiremsome, political act.”

    At the blog for the Constitution Center, Doug Kendall and Brianne Gorod consider the opinion of Judge Jeffrey Sutton, the first federal appellate judge to uphold a state ban on same-sex marriage, and how it conflicts with Loving v. Virginia.

    Eric Segall argues in Slate that the justices of the Supreme Court should be considered politicians, not judges.