All Defendants Sentenced to Death Entitled to Have a Jury Determine Non-Frivolous Claims That They Are Mentally Retarded

Burns v. Warden of Sussex I State Prison, 597 S.E.2d 195 (Va. 2004)

In response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Atkins v. Virginia (2002) that bans sentencing a mentally retarded individual to death, the Virginia General Assembly in 2003 established procedures for determining mental retardation in capital murder trials.  This legislation established separate procedures for defendants whose trials occurred after the effective date of this legislation (i.e., new trials) and for defendants whose trials had previously been concluded.  For new trials, it is clear that this legislation allows a jury to decide whether a capital murder defendant is mentally retarded.  For defendants whose trials were completed prior to the effective date of the legislation, it was unclear whether those who raise a non-frivolous claim are entitled to have a jury decide the issue...

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 1