[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----PENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Jun 13 04:09:28 UTC 2006
House passes bill addressing retardation in death penalty cases
Jurors would have to unanimously decide that a defendant convicted of
murder was not mentally retarded before they could consider the death
penalty under a bill approved Monday by the state House of Representatives.
The bill is intended to bring Pennsylvania law in line with U.S. Supreme
Court guidelines established after a landmark 2002 ruling that banned the
execution of mentally retarded defendants. The court left it up to the
states to define mental retardation and determine who decides if a
defendant is retarded.
The House bill passed 169-28 after a debate in which opponents argued that
judges should determine whether defendants are retarded before they go to
trial rather than having juries do so after they are convicted. The
measure now goes to the state Senate for consideration.
Under the bill, sponsored by Rep. Dennis M. O'Brien, R-Philadelphia, if a
jury was not unanimous in concluding that a defendant was not retarded, he
or she would be sentenced to life in prison.
"Juries have always decided whether a killer can be acquitted by reason of
insanity," O'Brien said. "There is no good reason why juries should be
stripped of a substantial portion of their power to determine the question
of mental retardation in capital murder cases."
Rep. Kathy Manderino, D-Philadelphia, tried unsuccessfully to amend the
bill to place the responsibility of determining mental retardation with
the trial judge in a pretrial proceeding.
"The mental retardation is something that needs to have been demonstrated
conclusively during childhood," Manderino said. "That is something that
can be taken into account before we go to trial and spend all the time,
energy and resources on a capital case jury in an instance where the
person is not even eligible to get the death penalty."
However, O'Brien argued that a pretrial process would be "costly and
wasteful," bringing up testimony that will be rehashed during a trial.
The House vote comes 6 months after the state Supreme Court set
standards by which murder defendants can prove they are mentally retarded
and avoid the death penalty. The court, however, also urged the
Legislature to adopt its own standards.
The court said in its December 2005 ruling that it would not rely on a
"cutoff IQ score" and instead adopted a system that takes into account
both "limited intellectual functioning" and "deficiencies in adaptive
The court ruled in a case involving a defendant's post-conviction appeal,
so it did not say how its new rules should apply to new murder cases. Its
ruling did not make clear whether a judge or jury should determine
retardation, or if that should be done before trial or after conviction.
(source: Associated Press)
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