Jenner & Block

Firm Files Amicus Brief in Death Penalty Case of Mentally Retarded Man

A firm team recently filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court, on behalf of a group of habeas scholars, in a death penalty case involving a mentally retarded man in Georgia whose execution is scheduled for July 15, 2013.  Although all the medical experts who have evaluated Warren Lee Hill, Jr. agree that he is mentally retarded, and therefore ineligible for the death penalty under Atkins v. Virginia, the U.S Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit denied review of his claim, holding that it was procedurally barred as a second-or-successive petition under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA).  Mr. Hill subsequently filed a petition for an original writ of habeas corpus in the Supreme Court.  

The amicus brief written by Partner Lindsay C. Harrison and Associate Rukku Singla, with assistance from Senior Paralegal Cheryl L. Olson, argues that the Court must occasionally grant original habeas relief when confronted with an extraordinary successive-petition case, where relief is both appropriate and necessary to avoid a manifest injustice.  Because the execution of a mentally retarded individual is undeniably unconstitutional, the brief contends that to deny Mr. Hill’s claim would raise serious constitutional questions, allowing the AEDPA to effectively eliminate the power of the federal courts to provide relief in rare and extraordinary cases. 

Professor Stephen Vladeck of American University's Washington College of Law also worked with the firm’s team, as a co-author of the brief.