Monday, January 02, 2006

PA Supreme Court gets it right AND wrong on retarded

I just finished reading the PA Supreme Court's decision in Commonwealth v. Joseph Miller. The court both got it right and got it wrong in this decision. There are broad implications on the imposition of the death penalty on the mentally retarded, and there are implications in the case of Joey Miller of Steelton.

Let's start with the good news. Basically, the court put its boot in the ass of the state legislature, a feeling the legislature must be getting used to at this point. It's been 3.5 years since the Atkins v. Virginia decision which banned the execution of the mentally retarded. The SCOTUS left the dirty details to the states, and PA's General Disassembly has done little on the issue. In 2003, the Senate passed a bill that set standards that would truly end the execution of the mentally retarded, i.e. determination made pre-trial by the judge, by a vote of 48-1, but the House didn't act on it and instead passed a version preferred by the district attorneys.

The PASC said, "Enough, get it done," in this decision. We applaud them for that.

However, vacating the decision of the appeals court to vacate Miller's death sentence was absurd. At Miller's 1997 trial, not only did the defense experts testify that Miller is mentally retarded but so did the prosecution's experts. The Court basically said that because the experts were testifying that Miller is "fucntioning at the mentally retarded or borderline retarded range" that there is still doubt about whether or not he qualifies for relief under Atkins.

The topper in this circus comes, as usual, from the local DA, in this case Eddie Marsico (MarSickO, for our purposes). MarSickO said this to the AP:
Certainly we would never seek to execute anyone who we believed was mentally retarded in the sense that they had significant cognitive and adaptive impairments."

But let's take a ride in our Way Back Machine. In March, 2002, three months before the Atkins decision, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association testified against SB26, the bill that passed the Senate 48-1 a year later. And who sits on the Executive Committee of the PDAA? That's right, Eddie MarSickO.


Post a Comment

<< Home