Justices enable execution of Alfred Bourgeois to proceed

Posted on Friday, December 11th, 2020 at 9:31 pm by Kalvis Golde

Alfred Bourgeois was the 10th person to be killed by the federal government this year after the Supreme Court rejected his motion to delay execution on Friday night. Judges Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor said they granted the motion.

Federal law and Supreme Court precedent prohibit the execution of the mentally retarded. Through his attorney, Bourgeois informed the judges that he met the current psychological standards for intellectual disability, which became the required legal standard after his conviction. He asked the judges to postpone his execution so that they could see whether he was legally eligible to be punished by death.

Shortly after the judges denied his appeal, Bourgeois was killed by lethal injection in Federal Prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. He was pronounced dead at 8:21 p.m. EST.

Bourgeois was convicted of the murder of his two-year-old daughter in 2004 while delivering a shipment to Corpus Christi Naval Air Station in Texas. Evidence in court showed he hit his daughter a month before she died. During an appeal hearing, Bourgeois’ sister revealed that this pattern of abuse was not new: as a child, her mother had “repeatedly” hit him because of his intellectual deficiencies.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2002 in Atkins v Virginia that it was unconstitutional to execute someone with intellectual disabilities. After receiving his death sentence, Bourgeois petitioned a Texas federal court to rule that he was mentally retarded and therefore excluded from execution. His appointment was unsuccessful. The court ruled that although his IQ fell below the disability threshold, whether he had “significantly below average intellectual functioning” was a factual decision point for the courts, not a psychological issue, and his behavior did not show any disability.

Since then, Bourgeois told the judges, the playing field has changed in two ways.

First, the Supreme Court decisions in 2017 and 2019 made it clear that under federal law, the current definitions of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities are the relevant standards for intellectual disability in capital cases. Bourgeois claimed he met both of them. Following the 2017 ruling, he argued that the court’s decision invalidated the denial of his first appeal but remained unsuccessful.

Second, in the summer of 2019, the federal government began planning executions for the first time in more than 15 years. Bourgeois received a first date of execution on January 13, 2020. An Indiana federal court ruled his execution on hold, ruling that Bourgeois had “severely shown” disability by contemporary standards. A US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals panel restarted his execution in October. Bourgeois asked the entire 7th Circle to reconsider this; In the meantime, the government set a new date of execution for December 11th. The day after his redress petition was rejected on December 1, Bourgeois lodged a final appeal to the Supreme Court, arguing that the 7th Circuit had falsely ruled that it was prohibited from bringing a new claim under federal law. The government asked the judges not to interfere with this verdict.

In a brief, unsigned order, the Supreme Court denied the bourgeois motion to stay the execution. Sotomayor wrote a four-page dissent, which Kagan followed.

“The court today allows Alfred Bourgeois to be executed, although Bourgeois, who has an IQ between 70 and 75, argues that he is mentally retarded by current clinical standards,” wrote Sotomayor. She argued that the court should have ordered residency and taken up the bourgeois appeal to determine whether his execution (and that of people in a similar position on death row) should have been prohibited by the federal law on the execution of persons with intellectual disabilities is excluded.

Posted in Bourgeois v. Watson, Bourgeois v. Watson, Featured, Capital Cases

Recommended citation:
Kalvis Golde, judges permit the execution of Alfred Bourgeois,
SCOTUSblog (December 11, 2020, 9:31 pm),

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