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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Courts consider mental health claims

AUSTIN – In the year and a half since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled mentally retarded inmates cannot be executed, state and federal appeals courts have delayed or sent back to trial 41 Texas death row cases to decide whether the killer was mentally retarded, says a group that tracks the claims.
Critics of the Texas’ capital punishment system say the numbers show death row has dozens of people who may be ineligible for execution.
Death penalty supporters wonder if inmates are trying to delay justice by jamming the courts with new claims of mental retardation.
Both sides agree the Legislature should change state law to decide mental retardation earlier to reduce the burden on appeals courts.
When the Supreme Court ruled, it left it up to the states to determine mental retardation, and the Texas criminal justice system has been groping in the dark ever since.
”Texas has no system in place, and what you have is chaos,” said Steve Hall, director of StandDown Texas, which opposes the death penalty.
Dianne Clements, president of the victims rights group Justice For All, said it’s difficult not having a clear state definition of mental retardation.
”These defendants are taking every opportunity they can to remove themselves from death row. If a defendant raises the claim, we provide them with super due process because of the law,” Clements said.
Texas has about 450 prisoners on death row.
The Texas Defender Service, which represents capital murder defendants on appeal, has tracked the number of post-conviction mental retardation claims by death row inmates since the Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling.
The state Court of Criminal Appeals has sent 37 cases back to trial courts for hearings. Four cases were remanded by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
The first was the case of Jose Briseno, convicted of killing Dimmit County Sheriff Ben ”Doc” Murray in 1991. Briseno was spared just hours before his July 10, 2002, scheduled execution. This past week, the Court of Criminal Appeals upheld a trial judge’s rejection of his mental retardation claims.

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