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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Autism and a Death Penalty Case

Death row inmate David Allen Raley on Monday asked a Santa Clara County judge to fire the court-appointed lawyers arguing that he should be spared execution because he is mentally retarded.
But it appears Raley's defense team will be allowed to press forward with the legal argument, whether the condemned killer likes it or not.
After clearing the courtroom to hear from Raley, Superior Court Judge Linda Clark, without commenting on the representation issue, moved forward with a special hearing to determine if Raley should be given a reprieve under a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that bars the execution of the mentally retarded.
The California Supreme Court has ordered Clark to hold hearings and make recommendations on Raley's claims that he is autistic and therefore falls under the protections of the Supreme Court's bar on executing the mentally retarded.
As readers of this blog know well, autism and intellectual disability are two entirely different things.  Yet there is language in the Atkins majority opinion that lawyers could adapt to this case:
As discussed above, clinical definitions of mental retardation require not only subaverage intellectual functioning, but also significant limitations in adaptive skills such as communication, self-care, and self-direction that became manifest before age 18. Mentally retarded persons frequently know the difference between right and wrong and are competent to stand trial. Because of their impairments, however, by definition they have diminished capacities to understand and process information, to communicate, to abstract from mistakes and learn from experience, to engage in logical reasoning, to control impulses, and to understand the reactions of others.23 There is no evidence that they are more likely to engage in criminal conduct than others, but there is abundant evidence that they often act on impulse rather than pursuant to a premeditated plan, and that in group settings they are followers rather than leaders.24 Their deficiencies do not warrant an exemption from criminal sanctions, but they do diminish their personal culpability.