Attorney General Bill Lockyer Issues Statement in Response to U.S. Supreme Court Decision Prohibiting the Execution of the Mentally Retarded

Thursday, June 20, 2002
Contact: (415) 703-5837, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today issued the following statement in response to the United States Supreme Court's decision in Atkins v. Virginia:

"The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to prohibit the execution of the mentally retarded is one of the most significant capital case decisions in our nation's history. The court has reached a commendable conclusion. While the mentally retarded should not be subject to the death penalty, the practical application of the court's opinion will present big challenges for prosecutors and defense attorneys as well as state and federal courts.

While hundreds of inmates currently wait on California's death row, the state's district attorneys use caution and reason in carefully deciding when and whether to prosecute murderers for capital crimes. For prosecutors, judges and juries, the decision to sentence a murderer to death is a weighty one, and it is reserved for the worst of the worst. California courts and juries have long considered a defendant's mental capacity when determining the appropriate sentence. The high court's decision today provides further guidance on mental retardation as a condition bearing upon culpability.

The most seriously mentally retarded are vulnerable members of our society. The death penalty should not be imposed on those who are truly mentally retarded. It is my intention to ensure that the court's decision is responsibly and fairly implemented in California."

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