Of Atkins and Men: Deviations from Clinical Definitions of Mental Retardation in Death Penalty Cases

35 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2009  

John H. Blume III

Cornell Law School

Sheri Lynn Johnson

Cornell Law School

Christopher Seeds

New York University (NYU)

Date Written: January 13, 2009

Abstract

Under Atkins v. Virginia, the Eighth Amendment exempts from execution individuals who meet the clinical definitions of mental retardation set forth by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and the American Psychiatric Association. Both define mental retardation as significantly subaverage intellectual functioning accompanied by significant limitations in adaptive functioning, originating before the age of 18. Since Atkins, most jurisdictions have adopted definitions of mental retardation that conform to those definitions. But some states, looking often to stereotypes of persons with mental retardation, apply exclusion criteria that deviate from and are more restrictive than the accepted scientific and clinical definitions. These state deviations have the effect of excluding from Atkins's reach some individuals who plainly fall within the class it protects. This article focuses on the cases of Roger Cherry, Jeffrey Williams, Michael Stallings and others, who represent an ever-growing number of individuals inappropriately excluded from Atkins. Left unaddressed, the state deviations discussed herein permit what Atkins does not: the death-sentencing and execution of some capital defendants who have mental retardation.

Suggested Citation

Blume, John H. and Johnson, Sheri Lynn and Seeds, Christopher, Of Atkins and Men: Deviations from Clinical Definitions of Mental Retardation in Death Penalty Cases (January 13, 2009). Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, 2009; Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09-001. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1327303

John H. Blume III (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States

Sheri Lynn Johnson

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States
607-255-6478 (Phone)
607-255-7193 (Fax)

Christopher Seeds

New York University (NYU) ( email )

Department of Sociology
292 Lafayette Street, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10012
United States

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