Williams v. Cahill, 2 CA–SA 2012–0070.

CourtCourt of Appeals of Arizona
Citation660 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 34,303 P.3d 532,232 Ariz. 221
Docket NumberNo. 2 CA–SA 2012–0070.,2 CA–SA 2012–0070.
PartiesRoosevelt Arthur WILLIAMS, Petitioner, v. Hon. Peter J. CAHILL, Judge of the Superior Court of the State of Arizona, in and for the COUNTY OF PIMA, Respondent, and The State of Arizona, Real Party in Interest.
Decision Date17 May 2013


Lori J. Lefferts, Pima County Public Defender By Sean Bruner and Dawn Priestman Tucson, Attorneys for Petitioner.

Barbara LaWall, Pima County Attorney By Jacob R. Lines, Tucson Attorneys for Real Party in Interest.


HOWARD, Chief Judge.

[232 Ariz. 222]¶ 1 In this statutory special action, Roosevelt Williams challenges the respondent judge's ruling that he failed to establish, by clear and convincing evidence, an intellectual disability rendering him ineligible for the death penalty in his pending prosecution for murder. Our consideration of the merits of Williams's petition is mandatory. SeeA.R.S. § 13–753 (I). For the following reasons, we deny relief.


¶ 2 As a matter of statutory and constitutional law, a person convicted of a capital offense who suffers from an intellectual disability, previously known as mental retardation, may not be sentenced to death. § 13–753(H); Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 321, 122 S.Ct. 2242, 153 L.Ed.2d 335 (2002) (Eighth Amendment prohibits execution of mentally retarded persons). 1 Under § 13–753(K)(3), an intellectual disability is defined as follows:

[A] condition based on a mental deficit that involves significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with significant impairment in adaptive behavior, where the onset of the foregoing conditions occurred before the defendant reached the age of eighteen.

The statute further defines [s]ignificantly sub-average general intellectual functioning” as “a full scale intelligence quotient of seventy or lower,” taking into account “the margin of error for the test administered.” § 13–753(K)(5). ‘Adaptive behavior’ is defined as “the effectiveness or degree to which the defendant meets the standards of personal independence and social responsibility expected of the defendant's age and cultural group.” § 13–753(K)(1).

¶ 3 Williams was indicted for two counts of first-degree murder, and the state filed a notice of its intent to seek the death penalty. In accordance with § 13–753(B), the respondent judge appointed a “prescreening psychological expert” to evaluate Williams's intelligence quotient (IQ). Upon that expert's report that Williams's IQ test score was less than seventy-five, the respondent appointed additional experts and scheduled an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Williams suffers from an intellectual disability and therefore is ineligible for a death sentence. See§ 13–753(D).

¶ 4 After the evidentiary hearing, the respondent judge found Williams had “met his burden of showing that, at least currently, he presents with significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning” based on [t]wo valid IQ test scores” of sixty-eight and seventy and the neuropsychological assessment performed by defense expert James Sullivan.2 But the respondent further found Williams had “not met his burden of showing that the mental impairment existed concurrently with significant adaptive behavior impairment or that the onset of the conditions occurred before [he] reached the age of [eighteen].” Accordingly, the respondent denied Williams's request to dismiss the state's notice of its intent to seek the death penalty.

¶ 5 For the most part, Williams does not dispute the respondent judge's thorough summary of the evidence presented at the hearing. Instead, he contends the respondent abused his discretion in applying § 13–753 “in such a manner that it violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article II § 15 of the Arizona Constitution.” But Williams does not articulate clearly the basis for a constitutional claim; instead, he challenges the respondent's reliance on certain evidence and his rejection of other evidence in concluding Williams had failed to sustain his burden of proof. According to Williams, clear and convincing evidence not only established that he suffers from impairments in intellectual and adaptive functioning contemplated by § 13–753, but also established, as required, that the onset of these conditions occurred before the age of eighteen.


¶ 6 At a hearing conducted in accordance with § 13–753, “the defendant has the burden of proving intellectual disability by clear and convincing evidence.” § 13–753(G); see also State v. Grell ( Grell II ), 212 Ariz. 516, ¶ 29, 135 P.3d 696, 702 (2006) (statute's burden of proof requirements constitutionally permissible). We defer to the respondent judge's factual findings if they “are supported by the record and not clearly erroneous.” State v. Rosengren, 199 Ariz. 112, ¶ 9, 14 P.3d 303, 307 (App.2000). Moreover, a trial judge ‘has broad discretion in determining the weight and credibility given to mental health evidence’ presented in an Atkins hearing. Grell II, 212 Ariz. 516, ¶ 58, 135 P.3d at 708,quoting State v. Doerr, 193 Ariz. 56, ¶ 64, 969 P.2d 1168, 1181 (1998). We review legal questions, including questions of constitutional law, de novo, id. ¶¶ 22, 55, but we will not upset a legal determination that evidence was insufficient to meet a clear and convincing standard unless we can say “as a matter of law that no one could reasonably find that the evidence ... was less than clear and convincing.” Groth v. Martel, 126 Ariz. 102, 103, 612 P.2d 1065, 1066 (App.1979); see also State v. West, 226 Ariz. 559, ¶ 15, 250 P.3d 1188, 1191 (2011) ([Q]uestion of sufficiency of the evidence is one of law....”).

¶ 7 In Atkins, the United States Supreme Court held that executing a mentally retarded offender violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. 536 U.S. at 321, 122 S.Ct. 2242. The Court announced this categorical rule based on a “national consensus,” evinced by prohibitions enacted by state legislatures, that mentally retarded persons are “categorically less culpable than the average criminal” and more vulnerable to wrongful execution. Id. at 315–21, 122 S.Ct. 2242. According to the Court, [t]o the extent there is serious disagreement about the execution of mentally retarded offenders, it is in determining which offenders are in fact retarded.” Id. at 317, 122 S.Ct. 2242.

¶ 8 The Court cited clinical definitions of mental retardation found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed. 2000) (DSM–IV), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), and Mental Retardation: Definition, Classification, and Systems of Supports (9th ed. 1992), published by the American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR), 3 stating that both definitions require evidence of “subaverage intellectual functioning ... [and] significant limitations in adaptive skills such as communication, self-care, and self-direction that became manifest before age [eighteen].” 4Id. at 318 & n. 3, 122 S.Ct. 2242. Adopting the approach it chose when it prohibited execution of offenders who are insane, the Court left ‘to the State[s] the task of developing appropriate ways to enforce the constitutional restriction upon [their] execution of sentences,’ noting that “statutory definitions of mental retardation” in states that legislatively had prohibited execution “are not identical, but generally conform to the clinical definitions” promulgated by the APA and the AAMR. Id. at 317 & n. 22, 122 S.Ct. 2242,quoting Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399, 416–17, 106 S.Ct. 2595, 91 L.Ed.2d 335 (1986) (alterations in Atkins ).

¶ 9 Arizona is among the states that had enacted legislation prohibiting the execution of mentally retarded offenders before Atkins was decided. Id. at 315, 122 S.Ct. 2242;State v. Grell ( Grell I ), 205 Ariz. 57, ¶ 38, 66 P.3d 1234, 1240 (2003); see also 2001 Ariz. Sess. Laws, ch. 260, § 2. As summarized by our supreme court,

[Section 13–7535 ] involves several steps in which experts examine a capital defendant “using current community, nationally and culturally accepted physical, developmental, psychological and intelligence testing procedures, for the purpose of determining whether the defendant has mental retardation.” The experts submit reports and the trial court holds a hearing at which the defendant bears the burden of proving mental retardation by clear and convincing evidence. A finding by the trial court of mental retardation prohibits the imposition of the death penalty.

Grell I, 205 Ariz. 57, ¶ 39, 66 P.3d at 1240,quoting§ 13–753(E) (citations omitted). The court noted Arizona's statute “appears to comport substantively and procedurally with the principles set forth in Atkins,” id. n. 4, and remanded the case for a determination of whether Grell, who had been sentenced before the statute took effect, was “mentally retarded and therefore ineligible to receive the death penalty” pursuant to constitutional principles announced by the Supreme Court in Atkins,id. ¶ ¶ 41–42.

¶ 10 In an appeal after remand, our supreme court affirmed the trial court's finding that Grell had failed to establish mental retardation by clear and convincing evidence. Grell II, 212 Ariz. 516, ¶ 63, 135 P.3d at 709. The court rejected Grell's arguments that § 13–753 is unconstitutional because it places the burden of proving mental retardation on the defendant; because it requires the defendant to prove mental retardation by clear and convincing evidence; or because it permits capital punishment in the absence of a jury finding, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant is not mentally retarded. Id. ¶¶ 29, 41, 49.

¶ 11 Relevant to some of the issues Williams raises, Grell also had argued the trial court erred in finding the evidence insufficient to establish he had a significant impairment in adaptive behavior and...

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    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • 24 Junio 2021
    ...Stripling, 289 Ga. at 373 (1). See Atkins, 536 U. S. at 317 (III); Hill, 277 Ga. at 262 (II) (B). See also Williams v. Cahill, 303 P3d 532, 550 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2013) (Eckerstrom, P.J., dissenting) ("But this paragraph [from Atkins], byPage 46 its terms, only invites states to develop 'ways ......
  • Young v. State
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • 24 Junio 2021
    ...665. See Atkins , 536 U. S. at 317 (III), 122 S.Ct. 2242 ; Hill , 277 Ga. at 262 (II) (B), 587 S.E.2d 613. See also Williams v. Cahill , 232 Ariz. 221, 303 P.3d 532, 550 (Ct. App. 2013) (Eckerstrom, P.J., dissenting) ("But this paragraph [from Atkins ], by its terms, only invites states to ......
  • Young v. State
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • 1 Junio 2021
    ...289 Ga. at 373 (1). See Atkins, 536 U. S. at 317 (III); Hill, 277 Ga. at 262 (II) (B). See also Williams v. Cahill, 303 P3d 532, 550 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2013) (Eckerstrom, P.J., dissenting) ("But this paragraph [from Atkins], by its terms, only invites states to develop 'ways to enforce' the co......
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    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • 24 Junio 2021
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