On Thursday, June 18, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5-4 that Kevan Brumfield can issue an Atkins claim in federal court to prove that his mental disability legally exempts him from being executed by the state of Louisiana.
Brumfield was convicted of murdering a Baton Rouge police officer in 1995 and subsequently sentenced to death despite evidence that demonstrated that he had an IQ of 75 and could only read at a fourth-grade level. In 2002, seven years after Brumfield’s conviction, the Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that sentencing a mentally ill person to death violates the eighth amendment.
Brumfield filed for post-conviction relief after the Atkins ruling, but was denied an Atkins hearing by both the Louisiana state court and the Louisiana supreme court. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling will allow Brumfield to provide a federal court with evidence to support his claim that he is mentally disabled and thus cannot be executed. In the opinion written by Justice Sotomayor, Sotomayor wrote that, "an individual, like Brumfield, who was placed in special education classes at an early age, was suspected of having a learning disability, and can barely read at a 4th grade level, certainly would seem to be deficient in both 'understanding and use of language' and 'learning'—two of the six 'areas of major life activity [under Louisiana's relevant standard]”
For more information on Brumfield v. Cain visit Education Week: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/school_law/2015/06/school_iq_issues.html
On Thursday, June 18, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5-4 that peremptory jury strikes in the murder trial of Hector Ayala were constitutional.
Ayala, a Hispanic man, argued that seven potential black and Latino jurors had been dismissed by the prosecution in his trial because of their race, a practice the Supreme Court ruled in Batson v. Kentucky (1986) violated the Equal Protection clause of the 14th amendment. The court found that the prosecution provided reasonable, race-neutral explanations for the exclusion of the black and Latino jury members, and in doing so upheld Ayala’s trial and death sentence.
Surprisingly, Justice Kennedy, the deciding vote in this case, while ruling to maintain Ayala’s death sentence, expressed his discontent with solitary confinement in a five page concurrence, citing his disbelief that Ayala has spent nearly 25 years in solitary confinement since his conviction.
Slate magazine states:
Kennedy then described the “human toll wrought by extended terms of isolation,” the “terrible price” exacted by “years on end of near-total isolation,” including anxiety, self-mutilation, and suicide. Remarkably, to illustrate his point, Kennedy cites the recent death of Kalief Browder, who was charged with stealing a backpack at age 16, spent three years in solitary confinement, and hanged himself earlier this month.
Kennedy lauds “penalogical [sic] and psychology experts, including scholars in the legal academy,” for offering “essential information and analysis” about the horrors of solitary confinement. But oddly, he chastises the country for what he believes to be its apathy toward inmates. “[T]he condition in which prisoners are kept,” Kennedy writes, “simply has not been a matter of sufficient public inquiry or interest
For more information on Justice Kennedy’s concurrence read the full Salon article at: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2015/06/supreme_court_and_solitary_confinement_justice_anthony_kennedy_finds_it.html.
For more information on the Davis v. Ayala decision visit Oregonlive.com: http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2015/06/post_139.html.
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has created the 90 Million Strong Campaign to unite the voices of those who believe the death penalty is wrong. We need to demonstrate that the broad public support to end this practice is already here in America, and 90 million people speaking up can make a difference.