Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hill: Reasonable Doubt Standard does not unduly burden mentally retarded offenders

In Hill v. Humphrey, No. 08-15444 (Nov. 22, 2011) (en banc) (7-4), the Court denied habeas relief to a Georgia inmate, rejecting his constitutional challenge to Georgia’s requirement that he prove his mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt in order to avoid the death penalty. The Court found no “clearly-established” Supreme Court law supported the challenge.

The Court noted that Atkins v. Virginia held that it was unconstitutional to execute mentally retarded offenders, but left it to States to implement the procedural rules to prevent the execution of these offenders. The Court also noted that in Leland v. Oregon (1952), the Supreme Court held that Due Process was not violated when, for an insanity defense, a State required the defendant to prove his insanity beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Court also rejected the argument that requiring a mentally retarded person to prove his mental retardation beyond a reasonable burdened the Eighth Amendment right not to be executed. The Court found no Supreme Court decision holding that such a right exists.

The Court further noted that Georgia law affords a mentally retarded offender procedural safeguards. The Court rejected the argument that creating a burden on a defendant to prove mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt creates too high a risk of erroneous executions, noting that any rule would allocate some risk to error to the defendant.

The Court rejected the dissent’s reliance on Pannetti v. Quarterman, finding that in an AEDPA habeas context, a court could not “import” a procedural burden of proof requirement from Panetti into the Atkins context.