E. Supp.

Insurmountable Hill: How Undue AEDPA Deference Has Undermined the Atkins Ban on Executing the Intellectually Disabled

Abstract:  On November 22, 2011, in Hill v. Humphrey, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, sitting en banc, held that a petitioner’s federal habeas petition challenging his death sentence must be denied in light of the degree of deference owed to the state habeas court’s decision under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). In so doing, the court rejected the petitioner’s argument that Georgia’s beyond a reasonable doubt standard for proving a defendant’s intellectual disability is unconstitutionally stringent and thus eviscerates the right of the intellectually disabled to be exempt from capital punishment, a right clearly constitutionalized by the U.S. Supreme Court in Atkins v. Virginia. This Comment argues that the majority’s overly strict approach in Hill has produced an unduly deferential standard for federal review of state court decisions. Consequently, under this approach, important constitutional protections—like that exempting the intellectually disabled from execution—are denied without recourse.

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