Intellectual Disability, The Death Penalty, and Jurors

24 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2018 Last revised: 6 Jul 2018

Emily V. Shaw

University of California, Irvine, School of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology and Social Behavior, Students

Nicholas Scurich

University of California - Irvine

David L. Faigman

University of California Hastings College of the Law

Date Written: June 5, 2018

Abstract

In Atkins v. Virginia (2002), the United States Supreme Court held that intellectually disabled defendants cannot be sentenced to death; but since then, the Court has continued to grapple with how intellectual disability should be legally defined. Typ-ically, however, it is jurors who determine whether a defendant is intellectually disabled and therefore categorically ineligible for the death penalty. Very little is known empiri-cally about how jurors reason about and make these decisions. This Article presents the results of a novel experiment in which venire jurors participated in an intellectual disa-bility hearing and a capital sentencing hearing. The diagnosis of a court-appointed expert was experimentally manipulated (defendant is or is not intellectually disabled), as was the provision of information about the crime (present or absent). Jurors were consider-ably more likely to find the defendant not disabled when the expert opined that the de-fendant was not disabled. They were also more likely to find the defendant not disabled when they learned about the details of the crime. Similarly, jurors were more likely to sentence the defendant to death after learning about the details of the crime, which in-creased perceptions of both the defendant’s blameworthiness and his mental ability. These findings highlight the reality that jurors’ assessments of intellectual disability are influenced by crime information, contrary to pronouncements made by the United States Supreme Court, and they support the use of bifurcated disability proceedings, as some states have recently adopted.

Suggested Citation

Shaw, Emily and Scurich, Nicholas and Faigman, David L., Intellectual Disability, The Death Penalty, and Jurors (June 5, 2018). Jurimetrics, Vol. 58, 2018, Forthcoming; UC Hastings Research Paper No. 286; UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2018-45. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3191190

Emily Shaw

University of California, Irvine, School of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology and Social Behavior, Students ( email )

4201 Social & Behavioral Sciences Gateway
Irvine, CA 92697-7085
United States

Nicholas Scurich (Contact Author)

University of California - Irvine ( email )

Campus Drive
Irvine, CA 62697-3125
United States

David L. Faigman

University of California Hastings College of the Law ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

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