Press Release
From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
Friday, January 3, 2003
Contact: Mike Lavigne, (512) 463-0113

Senator Ellis Files Bill to Ban Execution of Mentally Retarded

Austin, TX- Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) filed legislation on Thursday to ban the execution of the mentally retarded in Texas. Senate Bill 163 addresses the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Atkins vs. Virginia that banned the execution of the Mentally Retarded nationally.

"As a strong supporter of the death penalty, I believe it is necessary to keep a vigilant eye on the process," said Senator Ellis. "This legislation will help to ensure that we only execute those who deserve of the ultimate punishment."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Atkins that the execution of the mentally retarded constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and violates the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

"The Supreme Court's decision confirmed what we already knew to be true. It is simply wrong to execute the mentally retarded," Senator Ellis continued. "We do not execute children in the state of Texas, therefore we should not execute those who have the mind of a child."

The Supreme Court's decision in Atkins assigned the states the task of establishing a procedure for determining mental retardation. SB 163 accomplishes this challenge. The legislation calls for a pretrial jury determination of mental retardation. The bill provides that a defendant with an IQ of 70 or below is presumed to be mentally retarded. The prosecution may put on evidence to rebut the presumption.

The definition of mental retardation mirrors the criteria found in the Texas Health and Safety code. This standard is both precise and widely accepted by the mental health community and legal experts. Under this legislation determination of mental retardation would involve the following three-prong test:

1) significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning that is
2) concurrent with deficits in adaptive behavior and
3) originates during the developmental period (before the age of 18)

"This legislation outlines a very detailed and specific process for determining eligibility for the death penalty," explained Senator Ellis. "The rigidness of this test eliminates the chance that someone might be able to "game" the system."