WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a petition for certiorari today in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Rodney Young, (above) a man incarcerated on Georgia’s death row with an intellectual disability.
The Constitution forbids the execution of persons with intellectual disability. New Jersey educators first diagnosed Mr. Young’s disability when he was a child.
The petition on his behalf seeks review of a Georgia law that requires persons with intellectual disability, who assert their Eighth Amendment right to be free from execution, to prove their disability “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This standard of proof is the highest standard in our legal system, and Mr. Young’s jury decided that he had failed to surmount it, and sentenced him to death.
In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that persons with intellectual disability are exempt from execution, because such executions would violate their Eighth Amendment rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.
The Georgia law under attack in the ACLU’s petition clashes with the law of every other capital state, all but two of which require proof of intellectual disability by a mere burden of more likely than not (the remaining two require clear and convincing proof). No defendant convicted of intentional murder in Georgia has ever proven to a jury that they are intellectually disabled under its “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.
Georgia’s imposition of this standard, usually reserved for the burden the government must satisfy to obtain a conviction, is not just an outlier when it comes to the death penalty. Nowhere else in all of constitutional law does a state require an individual asserting any constitutional right to prove their factual entitlement to the right by such a severe burden.
Brian Stull, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project and counsel for Mr. Young, issued the following statement:
“Georgia law permits, in violation of the Constitution, execution of persons with intellectual disability such as my client Rodney Young. The petition we file today asks the U.S. Supreme Court to review this unconstitutional law. Georgia is the only state in the nation that requires defendants with intellectual disability to prove this disability beyond a reasonable doubt in order to spare their life.
“Georgia’s uniquely high and onerous burden means that people with intellectual disability will be executed. We are hopeful that upon review of our petition and the other pleadings filed, the court will take up this case to correct the injustice Mr. Young faces under this law that is both an outlier in all of capital law and in all of constitutional jurisprudence.”