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High court rules against automatic jury determination of mental retardation

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [JURIST news archive] ruled Monday that death row inmates [JURIST news archive] do not have an automatic right to a jury trial to determine whether or not an inmate is mentally retarded and therefore ineligible for execution. The unsigned opinion [PDF text] comes three years after the Court barred executions of the mentally retarded [Atkins v. Virginia opinion] because they violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In Monday's opinion, the Court reiterated its position that states have discretion to set up their own systems for determining whether an inmate is mentally retarded. The Court's ruling overturned a Ninth Circuit decision that said that Robert Smith, on death row for the 1980 murder of a mentally ill woman, was entitled to a jury trial on his claims that he is mentally retarded. In the petition for certiorari, Arizona state attorney Kent Cattani had argued that there is no basis in the constitution for requiring a jury, rather than a judge, to make that determination. AP has more.

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