Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Atkins MR/ID Death Penalty Court Decision: Wilson (TX, 2010,2011) loses on remand

This is a new decision related to the Texas case of Wilson which was previously posted in August 2010, at that time with a guest blog post by Kevin Foley.

The latest decision (Wilson v Thayler, 2011) is now included in the Court Decisions blogroll. Kevin Foley provides the following guest comments regarding this latest decision.

Marvin Lee Wilson Loses on Remand Guest blog comments by Kevin Foley.

Marvin Lee Wilson’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus relief, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the district court and ordered that, “The district court shall consider Petitioner’s motion and the full state Atkins record under the current law.” Apparently, the federal district court denied the habeas corpus claim without having the complete state court record before it. [Click here for copy of decision]

The district court’s resolution of the Atkins claim on remand was disappointing, to say the least. The district court stated that the state trial court’s decision was, “less than clear”, a comment that is a red flag to any lawyer, because it is an indication that, in some respects, one may not be able to tell just what the trial judge did or what reasoning he used. The district court’s discussion seemed to go downhill from here. Incredibly, the district court pointed out that, “the state court did not explicitly state that Wilson suffered from significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning [nor did the trial court make a specific finding about Wilson’s level of intellectual finding] . . . The state court also did not make explicit findings and reached no explicit conclusions as to whether Wilson had significant limitations in adaptive functioning, and it made no explicit finding as to whether Wilson’s significantly alleged sub-average intellectual functioning and significant limitations in adaptive skills ( if he had them) occurred prior to the age of eighteen”. What is going on here? How can a court rule on a mental retardation claim without making findings on the three elements of the diagnosis? Well, what the trial court did was - at least according to the federal habeas corpus judge – “The state court made explicit findings as to each of the seven Briseño factors”, the dubious judge-created “test” for whether a capital defendant is mentally retarded. It is a discouraging development in the land of Atkins jurisprudence that a court can adjudicate a mental retardation case without making findings on the three major elements of the diagnosis, instead relying mostly on the so-called Briseño factors - and have such a effort survive appellate and habeas corpus review.

[Blogmaster comment. Click here for all prior posts that touch on the Texas Briseno standards]

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