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Relief from Execution for Intellectually Disabled

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CasePervis Tyrone Payne v. State of Tennessee

Issues: The Supreme Court’s order granting review identified the following issues: (1) the appropriate remedy for an intellectual disability claim under these circumstances if coram nobis relief is not available; and (2) the relevance, if any, of the holding in Van Tran v. Colson, 764 F.3d 594 (6th Cir. 2014), regarding retroactive application of this Court’s decision in Coleman v. State, 341 S.W.3d 221 (Tenn. 2011).

Facts: Pervis Payne was sentenced to death in 1988. After losing his direct appeal, he filed and lost petitions for post-conviction relief and writ of error coram nobis. Several years later, he moved to re-open post-conviction proceedings and alleged he is intellectually disabled and thus ineligible for the death penalty. He argued the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision in Coleman established a new constitutional right and that he had new scientific evidence of his disability which makes him actually innocent of capital murder. The trial court rejected the petition as untimely under the statute of limitations.

Appellate Decision: In a split decision, the intermediate court agreed with the trial court that the delay in seeking error coram nobis relief was untimely. The majority noted that evidence of Payne’s intellectual disability has existed for several years and that Payne failed to petition for error coram nobis relief after multiple decisions from the U.S. and Tennessee Supreme Courts upon which he now relies. Judge McMullen dissented in part, writing that the case should be remanded for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Payne is intellectually disabled. Judge McMullen noted that the legal landscape in this area has “dramatically changed,” that Payne has never had an opportunity to prove disability, and that “Tennessee runs the risk of executing an intellectually disabled individual in violation of both the federal and state constitutions.”

Review Granted:  February 13, 2015.

Prediction: Ben thinks the Supreme Court will adhere to the dissenting opinion and remand for an evidentiary hearing. The constitutional prohibition against executing the mentally handicapped will have little force if an inmate is denied the opportunity to prove an alleged disability.