A provision in South Dakota’s death penalty law exempting intellectually challenged individuals is unconstitutional because it doesn’t square with the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a Lincoln County judge has ruled.
The 19-page opinion handed down last week by Second Circuit Court Presiding Judge Robin Houwman means an accused murderer will not face capital punishment unless Houwman’s opinion is overturned on appeal.
The Lincoln County State’s Attorney’s Office is pursuing the death penalty against Amir Hasan Beaudion Jr., charged with the killing of Pasqualina Esen Badi, abducted from a Walmart lot in January 2020.
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Beaudion’s attorneys argue their client is mentally incompetent to face the death penalty, contending his mental capacity is below the standard at which the government can use capital punishment to punish an offender.
The state, however, disagrees and says a low IQ alone — Beaudion’s is reportedly 60 — does not meet the criteria in state law defining intellectual disability. Rather, the statute requires a “subaverage” intellectual function to also be accompanied by related behavioral and social deficits in order to qualify for the exemption. The statute has been on the books since 2000.
South Dakota’s definition of ‘intellectual disability’ no longer valid, judge rules
Citing a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings involving capital punishment and intellectual disability, Houwman wrote in her ruling that the high court has a precedent of using clinical standards to determine cruel and unusual punishment. And due to recent updates in the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, South Dakota’s definition of intellectual disability is no longer constitutionally valid.
That’s because those documents, considered the Bible for the mental health industry, were amended in 2021 and 2022, respectively, to no longer include any relationship between intellectual and behavioral and social deficits.
“Neither of these current documents require any relationship much less a direct relationship between intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior,” Houwman wrote, adding later in the ruling that “it is this recent change to the (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5) . . . which makes the term ‘related’ in SDCL 23A-27A-26.2 unconstitutional.”
As a result of the ruling, South Dakota statute no longer defines intellectual disability as it relates to the death penalty. Houwman’s decision could be appealed to the South Dakota Supreme Court.
Lincoln County State’s Attorney Thomas Wollman told The Dakota Scout Monday his office hasn’t determined if it will appeal the ruling.
“We’re still reviewing the judge’s decision at this point,” he said.