Death Penalty

Right of defendant convicted and sentenced to death prior to Atkins decision to seek review and determination of whether defendant has intellectual disability and is therefore precluded from death penalty under the Eighth Amendment

Brumfield v. Cain, 135 S.Ct. 2269 (2015)

Petitioner Kevan Brumfield was convicted of murder in Louisiana and sentenced to death before the Supreme Court decided Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002). A subsequent Louisiana state Supreme Court case mandated an evidentiary hearing whenever a defendant provides facts sufficient to raise a reasonable ground to believe that he has an intellectual disability. See State v. Williams, 831 So.2d 835 (La. 2002). Brumfield amended his state post-conviction petition to include an Atkins claim and sought an evidentiary hearing. The amended petition referenced evidence introduced at sentencing that Brumfield had an IQ of 75, had a fourth-grade reading level, had been prescribed medications and treated in psychiatric hospitals as a child, had been identified as having a learning disability, and had been placed in special education classes. The trial court dismissed his post-conviction petition without holding an evidentiary hearing or granting funds to conduct additional investigation. Brumfield sought federal habeas relief.

The district court granted relief under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2254(d)(1) and (2), but the Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the state court decision was not “contrary to” and did not involve “an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law,” nor was it “based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.”

The Supreme Court vacated and remanded, holding as unreasonable under § 2254(d)(2) the state trial court’s determinations that 1) Brumfield’s IQ score was inconsistent with a diagnosis of intellectual disability and 2) he presented no evidence of adaptive impairment. Although the record contained some contrary evidence, that evidence did not foreclose all reasonable doubt as to Brumfield’s intellectual disability. The facts raised at sentencing were sufficient to raise doubt concerning Brumfield’s impairments. The Supreme Court held that Brumfield had “cleared [§ 2254(d)’s] procedural hurdles” and so was entitled to an evidentiary hearing to show his intellectual disability.

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 2