Death Penalty: The Case Wood Versus Alabama

Death Penalty: The Case Wood Versus Alabama

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The case Wood v. Alabama is a perfect example of how not having a set way to define what actually qualifies a person as mentally retarted, and not being able to assist his counsel on his own defense is an issue that still exists in our criminal justice system. Norman Abele is a psychologist who decided to review the case of Wood v. Allen Capital Case of 2009 in the American Psychologist Journal. Holly Wood was sentenced to death for the murder of his girlfriend by a jury of his peers in the state of Alabama. Wood was a black man with a vast criminal record containing 13 charges between 1981 and 1992, which included assault, disorderly conduct, escape, and capital murder (Abele 746). An issue brought up by Abele was that Woods counsel did not try hard enough to convince the jury that Wood’s mental deficiencies played a big part for the murder of his girlfriend. One of Woods’s original lawyers Kerry Scanlon did not present the evidence to the jury, which would have showed the jury that Wood had an IQ between 59 and 64, which placed him in the lowest 1% of the population (Abele 744). Abele stated that had the jury known of Wood’s mental instability they would not have sentenced him to death, and would have instead given him life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Abele brings up the fact that since 1976 after the reinstatement of the death penalty 44 individuals who were considered mentally retarted have been executed, about two thirds of them African America (as sited in Keyes, Edwards, & Perske, 2002). The point he is trying to make is that either attorneys are being negligent by not doing a better job of presenting evidence. The definition of mental retardation is also something he mentions as unclear to the jury and justices, or that racial prejudice has something to do with the sentencing outcomes. There are different definitions of mental retardation the American Association for Mental Retardation (AAMR) defined mental retardation as consisting of significant limitation of both intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior, including conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills (as sited in AAMR, 2002). The Social Security Administration also has its own definition for mental retardation, which consists of four levels. After a brief was filed the Supreme Court agreed to accept the case so that it could determine whether denying post-conviction relieve was unreasonable and also whether judicial review responsibilities by failing to determine whether the Alabama state court decision as unreasonable.

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Wood then had another hearing on November 9, 2009. The first thing his attorney Scanlon stated was, that Wood was sentenced to death because of his attorneys failed to present evidence that showed his intellectual disability (Abele 746). The Supreme Court justices voted 7 to 2 supporting the decision made by the Alabama state court. Abele ends by mentioning that one member of his counsel was a junior attorney, his inexperience was a reason why Wood received the death penalty (Abele 748). He finds it hard to understand why the defense did not choose to purse more of a mental impairment defense strategy. He continues to repeat that if the jury would have been presented with the evidence of Wood’s intellectual disabilities he would have had a chance to escape the death penalty but does not ignore the fact that had the evidence been presented there might still have been a chance that dissent would not have changed. When it comes to giving someone the death penalty an attorney must show anything to the jury that would help out the defendant. Abele believes that Wood’s lawyers were negligent, that their strategy was not good enough. The jury was left without important information that could have saved Wood from the death penalty.

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