July 18, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Determination that Mental Retardation Is Not a Fluid Concept is Consistent with Atkins

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Ochoa v. Workman on Wednesday, January 18, 2012.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. An Oklahoma state jury found Petitioner guilty of two counts of first degree murder and sentenced him to death. In Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 321 (2002), the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment precludes the execution of mentally retarded criminals. Relying on Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 321 (2002), in which the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment precludes the execution of mentally retarded criminals, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals granted Petitioner a post-conviction jury trial to determine whether he was mentally retarded. The jury found Petitioner failed to meet his burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, he was mentally retarded, and the appeals court affirmed. The Tenth Circuit granted Petitioner permission to file a second habeas petition raising his Atkins claims in federal district court. The district court denied the petition on the merits.

Petitioner contends that “Oklahoma law, which focuses on whether a defendant is mentally retarded at the time of trial, instead of whether he was mentally retarded at the time of the commission of the crime, is ‘contrary to, or . . . an unreasonable application of’ Atkins.” The Court rejected this contention. “Oklahoma’s determination that mental retardation is not a fluid concept is entirely consistent with Atkins.” Ochoa further asserts his trial was fundamentally unfair because “(1) the jury was informed he had been convicted of a crime, (2) he was forced to attend trial in an orange prison jumpsuit, and (3) he was forced to wear a shock sleeve during trial.” However, the Court held that the district court correctly concluded none of the alleged errors identified by Petitioner entitle him to habeas relief.

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