Another criminal sentencing bill is making its way through the North Carolina General Assembly. The bill focuses on individuals with severe mental disabilities who plead guilty to or are convicted of first-degree murder. Having passed the House of Representatives earlier this month, the measure, House Bill 659, moved to a Senate committee earlier this week where it awaits further action.
The bill has gone through a handful of iterations, but at all times the intention has been to take the death penalty off the table for defendants who can prove that they suffered from a “severe mental disability” (as defined in the bill) at the time they committed the crime.
It will be up to the defendant to convince the court at a pretrial hearing that he or she had the disability at the time of the offense. At that hearing, the defendant has the burden of production and the burden of persuasion. The evidence must be clear and convincing.
Having the burden of production means that a party must produce enough evidence to support the claim, to meet the legal definition of the mental disability.
When a defendant has the burden of persuasion, he must overcome a legal presumption. For example, in a criminal case, the defendant is presumed innocent; the prosecutor must prove him guilty. At this hearing, the defendant is presumed not to suffer from the mental disability and must persuade the judge otherwise.
We will continue this discussion, including the bill’s provisions that were deleted, in our next post.
The Mount Airy News, “Bill targets death penalty,” Mondee Tilley, 06/01/2011
North Carolina General Assembly, House Bill 659, engrossed 06/03/2011