…the PA legislature might finally act on the Atkins v. Virginia decision from the U.S. Supreme Court that ended the execution of the mentally retarded. The Court ended the practice but left the states to figure out how to git it done.
But wait! Even when directed by the SCOTUS, this bunch in Harrisburg still might find a way to screw it up. Tomorrow the PA House Judiciary Committee will take up House Bill 698, a bill that only a prosecutor could love. HB 698 would require that the determination on retardation be made after conviction by the jury. After going through an entire trial and recognizing the defendant’s guilt, the jury is expected to give an objective opinion on whether or not the defendant is retarded. Plus, this procedure means that everyone on said jury is “death-qualified”, which means they all support the death penalty. Like I said, it’s a bill that only a prosecutor could love and that only a PA legislator could think is constitutional.
Meanwhile, out here in the rationally thinking world, advocates for the mentally retarded, church groups, and civil libertarians support HB 1410, which would require that the determination on retardation be made pre-trial by the judge.
According to The Death Penalty Information Center, eight states have implemented post-Atkins standards. Six have opted for pre-trial determination, Virginia chose post-trial, and Louisiana is pre-trial, if the prosecutor agrees. (Stop laughing.) Fittingly, a Louisiana state court found the state’s procedure to be unconstitutional for multiple reasons, including the use of a “death-qualified” jury.