A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

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By Burt Rose

Comm. v. ABRAHAM SANCHEZ, JR., Appellant (Lancaster County) 12/21/11

Sanchez challenged the timing and the use of the jury in adjudicating his claim of death penalty ineligibility under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002). In Atkins, the U.S. Supreme Court held that execution of the mentally retarded violates the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

In this case, the PA Supreme Court per Chief Justice Castille has established procedures for the implementation of Atkins issues at the trial level. In submitting a colorable Atkins issue to the jury for a penalty phase decision, the trial court shall charge that (1) the burden is on the proponent of the Atkins claim to prove mental retardation, and to do so by a preponderance of the evidence; (2) a finding of mental retardation, for purposes of death ineligibility under Atkins, must be unanimous; (3) and the jury should pass upon the Atkins mental retardation question before proceeding to consider the aggravators and mitigators, a consideration that will occur only if the defendant fails to carry his burden.

Furthermore, if the factfinder (whether the jury or the judge, in cases of jury waiver) rejects the Atkins claim, proper evidence respecting alleged mental retardation may still be presented and argued to the jury if it supports a statutory mitigating circumstance. As a mitigator, mental retardation is less than a death penalty disqualifier and requires weighing by the jury with other mitigators, if any, against any aggravators, as an Atkins claim is distinct from an offer of mental retardation evidence in mitigation.

The Appellant was represented by Robert J. Kirwan II, Esq. of Cirba & Kirwan, P.C. of Reading, PA.

Note: I hope that you will be able to understand this, as I don’t; perhaps you ought to read the entire 69 page Opinion.

The Free Student Research Center is now OPEN. It will be open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 9AM to 3PM. The Free Student Research Center is available for use by attorneys who are current members of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section and who are court-appointed to the case for which they seek research (either state or CJA!).

The Free Student Research Center is located in the Jack Myers Memorial Lounge on the Third Floor of the CJC. You may make a research request in person or via the Criminal Justice Section website at http://www.philadelphiabar.org/page/CJResearch


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