Warren Hill Execution: It Would Be Completely Unconstitutional

As Georgia prepares to execute Warren Hill on Tuesday, an offender with intellectual disabilities, it shows complete disregard for justice, state law and, the Supreme Court.

Warren Hill, who was given the death sentence for killing a fellow inmate while already serving a life sentence in jail for killing his girlfriend, reportedly has an IQ of 70 (shared by only 3% of the population) which, constitutes as “borderline intellectual functioning” and “mentally retarded.” This not only hinders him from average functions but also subjects him to impulsive behavior. A state court has also found twice that Hill officially meets the criteria for mental retardation.

Tuesday night also will not be the first time Hill will be asked to choose his last meal – his execution was initially set for July 23, 2012, but was halted last-minute as he waited in the holding cell by the lethal injection room when technical questions regarding the method that would be used to kill him were raised. On Monday, he will once again choose his last meal and on Tuesday, he will be executed. And when the state of Georgia executes Mr. Hill tomorrow, not only will it go against its own state law but also the Supreme Court, as well as the victim, Joseph Handspike’s family’s wishes and potentially, international law.

In 1988, Georgia was the first state to ban the execution of mentally handicapped prisoners. This came after Jerome Bowden, a convicted killer with an IQ of 65, was executed by the state of Georgia for robbing and killing a 55-year-old woman. Georgia, however, also requires that the prisoner prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that they do indeed have a mental disability. However, as Eric Jacobsen points out in his Huffington Post article "The Supreme court Must Stop the Execution of Warren Hill," Georgia’s requirement in itself is “a powerful legal concept that does not translate into the way individuals are assessed to determine if they have a intellectual disability. So, while Georgia never contested Mr. Hill's intellectual disability or I.Q. of 70, he was not able to meet the burden of proof.”

Now, it appears, Georgia has forgotten the spirit of its own law as it intends on executing another man whose IQ fits in the same range as Bowden’s did, both constituting as mentally retarded.

The Supreme Court also banned executions of prisoners who are “mentally retarded” in the case of Atkins v. Virginia in 2002 as it constitutes as a violation of the Eighth Amendment that prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.” The Court concluded that death is not a suitable or justifiable punishment for a mentally disabled criminal. In going ahead with the execution of Warren Hill, the state of Georgia would be in clear violation of the Supreme Court and the constitution.

Moreover, even the family of the victim, Joseph Handspike, is opposed to Hill’s execution. In a letter written on behalf of the family, Richard Handspike, nephew of the victims, wrote: "I and my family feel strongly that persons with any kind of significant mental disabilities should not be put to death. I believe that if the system had evidence of such a disability in Mr. Hill, it should have taken steps to treat him accordingly an prevent his execution.”

Executing Hill could also constitute as a violation of international law. According to Christof Heyns, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has said: "This higher standard of proof, making it very difficult to demonstrate that one actually suffers from a psychosocial disability, may, I fear, mean that Mr. Hill, scheduled for execution … would be a fatality in violation of international as well as domestic law.”

In the end, in executing a person who, by all standards, suffers from a mental disability, Georgia will show a complete disregard for much of what this country stands for: justice. 

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Areej Elahi-Siddiqui

A Pakistani-American undergraduate student at the Seton Hall's School of Diplomacy and International Relations. She enjoys watching inordinate amounts of television, reading far too many books and drinking lots and lots of coffee.

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