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Vocapedia > USA > Law, Justice > Death Penalty


Intellectually disabled people / retardation




mental stability









mental deficiency










mental retardation










mental illness










have limited mental abilities




















psychosocial disability










mentally retarded persons


Intellectual Disability and the Death Penalty















intellectual disability / low I.Q. / be “mentally retarded”












be insane / severely mentally ill / mentally incompetent










 have mental disabilities


eugene-clemons-death-penalty - May 28, 2021








suffer from delusions










suffer from borderline intellectual functioning

























































mental disability > U.S. Supreme Court


The Supreme Court declared

it was unconstitutional to execute

intellectually disabled people




In the United States,

it is illegal to execute intellectually disabled people

— a prohibition that was encoded into many statutes

before the Supreme Court made it the law of the land.


The Anti-Drug Abuse Act, in particular,

provided that “death shall not be carried out

upon a person who is mentally retarded.”


Then, in 2002,

the Supreme Court, in Atkins v. Virginia,

forbade capital punishment

for people with intellectual disabilities.


In Atkins,

the court recognized the criteria

that clinicians generally use

to determine

whether someone is mentally disabled

— that intellectual disability

typically manifests before adulthood,

that it presents significant limitations

in practical functioning

and that it is usually associated

with an I.Q. significantly lower than the mean,

although by how much was not specified.


It left states with latitude

to define intellectual disability.



experts would be brought in

to perform evaluations,

and then judges and juries would weigh

arguments from the prosecution and defense

before deciding whether

they were convinced of the diagnosis.


In recent years,

the Supreme Court has provided more clarity,

ruling in 2014’s Hall v. Florida

that states cannot decide

whether defendants are intellectually eligible

for the death penalty

based on strict I.Q. thresholds

— in that case, a score of 70 —

because “intellectual disability is a condition,

not a number.”


For advocates and defense lawyers

aiding people with those limitations,

Hall lent much needed authority

to what clinicians and social workers

had struggled to affirm in courts for years.
























mentally retarded persons


Atkins v. Virginia in 2002 ruled out

executing defendants

with intellectual disability




US constitution's prohibition

against putting mentally ill people to death


The Supreme Court

banned the execution

of intellectually disabled people

in 2002




















mentally retarded persons


The Supreme Court bans the execution

of intellectually disabled people

in Atkins v. Virginia        June 20, 2002












be ineligible


eugene-clemons-death-penalty - May 28, 2021








be found criminally responsible












Corpus of news articles


USA > Law, Justice > Death Penalty




The Death Penalty Endgame


JAN. 16, 2016

The New York Times



How does the death penalty in America end?

For decades that has been an abstract question. Now there may be an answer in the case of Shonda Walter, a 36-year-old black woman on Pennsylvania’s death row. On Friday, the Supreme Court met to discuss whether to hear a petition from Ms. Walter, who is asking the justices to rule that in all cases, including hers, the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments.

Ever since 1976, when the court allowed executions to resume after a four-year moratorium, the abolition movement has avoided bringing a broad constitutional challenge against the practice, believing that it would not succeed. In that time, 1,423 people have been put to death.

Yet there is no question that the national trend is moving away from capital punishment. Since the late 1990s, almost every year has seen fewer executions, fewer new death sentences and fewer states involved in the repugnant business of killing their citizens.

In 2015, there were 28 executions and 49 new death sentences, the lowest numbers in decades. Seven states have abandoned the practice entirely since 2004, for a total of 19 that no longer have the death penalty. Many others have not executed anyone for years. And only three states — Texas, Georgia and Missouri — were responsible for almost all of last year’s executions.

A majority of Americans still support capital punishment, but the percentage favoring it has dropped from around 80 percent in the 1990s to about 60 percent now. When polls offer a choice between death and life without parole, people roughly split evenly.

In the past 14 years alone, the Supreme Court has barred the execution of several categories of people: minors, the intellectually disabled, and those convicted of a crime other than murder. In that last case, decided in 2008, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court, “When the law punishes by death, it risks its own sudden descent into brutality, transgressing the constitutional commitment to decency and restraint.”

Taken together, these signs have led some abolitionists to conclude that the conditions for ending capital punishment entirely are now as favorable as they might ever be. That argument got a major boost last June, when Justice Stephen Breyer, in a long dissent from a 5-to-4 ruling that allowed Oklahoma to proceed with its inhumane lethal-injection drug protocol, suggested he would be open to a case challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty itself.

In his dissent, which was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Breyer explained in detail how the death penalty was unreliable, arbitrary and racially discriminatory. He said it was no longer sufficient simply “to patch up the death penalty’s legal wounds one at a time,” because the practice as a whole “most likely” violates the Eighth Amendment.

Shonda Walter’s case is the first to take up Justice Breyer’s challenge. Ms. Walter was convicted of murdering an 83-year-old man named James Sementelli. Her appointed lawyers put on no defense and offered no argument that might have spared her from a death sentence. Pennsylvania appeals courts agreed that she had inexcusably bad representation, but they still upheld her conviction and sentence. Since Ms. Walter does not fit the special categories of defendants who are shielded from the death penalty, her appeal is based on the claim that all executions violate the Constitution.

The justices may not grant Ms. Walter’s petition (others are also expected to be filed in the coming weeks), but they can no longer ignore the clear movement of history. They already have all the evidence they need to join the rest of the civilized world and end the death penalty once and for all.


Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

A version of this editorial appears in print on January 17, 2016, on page SR10 of the New York edition with the headline: The Death Penalty Endgame.

The Death Penalty Endgame,
JAN. 16, 2016,






Intellectual Disability

and the Death Penalty


October 22, 2013

The New York Times



Eleven years ago, the Supreme Court banned the execution of intellectually disabled people in Atkins v. Virginia. Ever since, some states have worked to circumvent that ruling by defining intellectual disability using unscientific standards or by making it nearly impossible to prove. On Monday, the justices indicated that they may at last be ready to clarify the Atkins decision by agreeing to consider whether a Florida law defines intellectual disability too narrowly.

Freddie Lee Hall was sentenced to death for the 1978 murder of a 21-year-old pregnant woman, Karol Hurst. The Florida trial court found that Mr. Hall had been “mentally retarded his entire life,” but capital punishment was not then prohibited in such cases.

Mr. Hall appealed his death sentence following the 2002 Atkins ruling, which held that people with intellectual disabilities are less culpable because of their “reduced capacity” for understanding, reasoning and impulse control. But the Florida Supreme Court ruled against him because he scored between 71 and 80 on recent I.Q. tests, and state law requires a score of 70 or lower for a finding of intellectual disability.

Such a “bright line” I.Q. cutoff has been roundly rejected by mental-health experts, who say that the diagnosis of intellectual disability is complex and I.Q. tests are approximate measures but do not provide a complete picture. There is no magic score above which intellectual disability doesn’t exist.

Florida is far from alone in its efforts to undermine the court’s ruling. In Texas, the state’s highest criminal court decides whether a defendant is disabled enough to be executed by using unscientific standards based on outdated stereotypes. And in Georgia, defendants must prove intellectual disability beyond a reasonable doubt — an arguably unconstitutional standard no other state uses. In a promising development, the Georgia Legislature agreed last week to reconsider that standard. Rich Golick, a Republican state representative, said, “When you’re an outlier, you really ought not to stick your head in the sand.”

The Supreme Court is right to revisit its 2002 ruling, which gave states too much leeway to define intellectual disability. It should take this opportunity to reaffirm the central principle of Atkins and require states to adhere to medical consensus in defining intellectual disability.

Intellectual Disability and the Death Penalty,










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mental health / psychology



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Historical documents > USA






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