The Senate voted Tuesday to establish clear, fair guidelines for determining if a convicted murderer is mentally retarded and thereby ineligible to receive the death penalty. Sen. Todd Lamb, R-Edmond, introduced Senate Bill 1807 at the request of Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson. Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, is a co-author of the bill.
“We certainly don’t want to execute mentally retarded individuals in this state, but neither do we want to see defendants claiming mental retardation just to escape punishment for their heinous crimes,” said Lamb. “The courts have asked the Legislature for guidance in this matter, and it’s time for us to step up to the plate and create a fair standard for determining mental retardation.”
SB 1807 would require that a murderer have an intelligence quotient of 76 or above and require that the individual’s mental retardation was manifested before their 18th birthday in order to be eligible for the death penalty. The legislation provides for evidentiary hearings and a professional evaluation by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist.
Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that executing the mentally retarded is unconstitutional, mental retardation has become the “defense de jour” for murder defendants, said Edmondson. However, there is no clear, fair standard in law for determining which defendants can be considered mentally retarded.
“The court left it to each state to develop the proper method to enforce this constitutional restriction,” said Edmondson. “In Oklahoma, we have failed to legislatively establish that process.”
In December, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the death sentences of three convicted killers after a trial judge and jury had previously determined the defendants were not mentally retarded.
“These people killed with ice picks, axes, dismembered their victims – these aren’t Boy Scouts we’re talking about,” said Lamb. “This clearly isn’t a partisan issue. This measure passed unanimously out of committee. This is about public safety. It allows the sentence of death to be handed to the most evil of society while restricting that sentence for those that are mentally retarded, as required by the United States Supreme Court. These guidelines pass constitutional muster and are consistent with the will of the people of Oklahoma.”
SB 1807 now heads to the Oklahoma House of Representatives
for further consideration.