Helpful rulings by Eighth Circuit in Arkansas capital case involving Atkins and Martinez
Posted on: 11/15/2013 04:40:18 PM by Peoples
In Sasser v. Hobbs, ___ F.3d ___ (8th Cir. (Ark.) Nov. 15, 2013), the Eighth Circuit (Riley, with Wollman and Melloy), reversed in part the district court’s decision denying habeas relief to Andrew Sasser and remanded for reconsideration of Sasser’s Atkins claim and for an evidentiary hearing on defaulted claims of ineffective assistance by trial counsel at sentencing, as well as ineffective assistance by post-conviction counsel in failing to present those defaulted claims.

The panel concluded that the district court misconstrued Arkansas law in finding that Sasser had failed to prove mental retardation.  According to the panel’s reading of Arkansas law, contrary to that of the district court, there is no strict requirement that a defendant show an IQ score of 70 or below in order to meet the first prong of Arkansas’ mental retardation test.  The district court also erred in requiring Sasser to show significant deficits in adaptive behavior rather than significant limitations, as well as by balancing Sasser’s strengths with his weaknesses.   Also error was the district court’s consideration of Sasser’s adaptive functioning over time, rather than at the time of the offense or at the presumptive time of execution.