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Justices To Decide On Review Of Unique GA Death-Penalty Law

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide whether to hear a case challenging a Georgia law that places an extraordinary burden on capital defendants seeking to be spared execution, the New York Times reports. In the process, the justices could clarify whether it is just the words or also the "music" of their precedents that binds lower courts. Rodney Young was convicted in 2012 of killing the son of his estranged girlfriend. Young grew up in New Jersey, where schools classified him intellectually disabled. A 2002 Supreme Court decision, Atkins v. Virginia, ruled that the Eighth Amendment forbids putting intellectually disabled people to death. The Georgia law at issue, unique in the nation, requires capital defendants seeking to be spared execution to prove they are intellectually disabled beyond a reasonable doubt. That standard is intended to be hard to meet and is meant to tolerate letting some guilty people go free rather than risk sending innocent ones to prison. The Georgia law inverts this dynamic, tolerating the executions of some intellectually disabled people. Teachers and school staff members testified that Young satisfied the criteria for intellectual disability required by the Atkins decision, but the jury found that Young had not proved he was intellectually disabled beyond a reasonable doubt, and it sentenced him to death. “In the states that apply a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard, approximately one-third of those asserting that they are intellectually disabled succeed in invoking the Eighth Amendment’s protection,” then-Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote. “In Georgia, not a single person convicted of intentional murder has prevailed at trial in establishing that he is intellectually disabled.” Comparing Georgia’s approach to that of other states only begins to suggest how unusual the law is, Young’s lawyers told the U.S. Supreme Court.

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