A federal appeals court has ruled that death penalty defendants in Georgia will have to prove they are mentally disabled beyond a reasonable doubt to avoid execution, the most stringent legal standard in the nation.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision Tuesday said it couldn't strike down the Georgia law because the U.S. Supreme Court empowered each state to create its own definition for the mentally disabled. Most death penalty states have a lower threshold for defendants to prove they are mentally disabled; six states don't set any.
The ruling comes as a disappointment for defense attorneys and over the objections of four circuit judges. One of them, U.S. Circuit Judge Rosemary Barkett, wrote in a dissent that the law "eviscerates" the constitutional rights of mentally disabled offenders.