Does Atkins Make A Difference in Non-Capital Cases? Should It?

39 Pages Posted: 16 Jan 2015

Date Written: January 14, 2015


The holding in Atkins v. Virginia is clear. The execution of mentally retarded defendants, those people with intellectual disabilities, is unconstitutional. One other feature of the Atkins decision is also certain; the reason the 8th Amendment is violated by the use of the death penalty with such convicted defendants. That is because defendants with intellectual disabilities are to be viewed as less culpable than other defendants.

In this article, I look at the limited impact the Atkins rationale and its holding have had in non-capital cases. I examine three areas: confessions (both voluntariness determinations, and understanding of Miranda warnings), the ability of those with intellectual disabilities to assist their lawyers in making plea decisions or in creating a defense to criminal prosecutions, and sentencing. These three areas are of genuine significance because they focus on an accused’s understanding of the process and also the degree of culpability for the offense.

Keywords: Atkins, capital punishment, intellectually disabled defendants

Suggested Citation

Marcus, Paul, Does Atkins Make A Difference in Non-Capital Cases? Should It? (January 14, 2015). William & Mary Bill of Rights, Vol. 23, 2014, William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-293, Available at SSRN:

Paul Marcus (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

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