The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that death row inmates do not automatically have a right to a jury trial to determine whether they are mentally retarded and ineligible for execution, says the Arizona Daily Star, citing wire stories and its own reporting. Three years ago, the court barred executions of the mentally retarded, on grounds that they violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In an unsigned opinion on a 1980 Tucson murder case, the justices reiterated that states have discretion to set up their own systems.
The ruling means that the decision on who is mentally retarded in the same hands as those who once determined it was OK to execute the mentally retarded–judges, said Public Defender Robert Hooker in Tucson. “This means a lot more mentally retarded people are going to be killed,” he said, adding that he wondered why jurors can decide someone is insane and yet can’t make a determination as to someone’s mental competence. Pima County prosecutor Barbara LaWall called the decision “absolutely correct.” In insanity cases, jurors are asked whether defendants know the difference between right and wrong and whether they should be held culpable for their actions. The question of a defendant’s mental competence is a “threshold question” that needs to be answered by a judge long before trial, she said.