Mentally Retarded Criminals Should Face the Death Penalty

analytical Essay
2442 words
2442 words

On June 26, 1989, the United States Supreme Court, in the case of Penry v. Lynaugh, upheld the imposition of the death penaklty on a mentally retarded offender, John Penry (Chan 1211). The Court, also, held that the Federal Constitution's eighth amendment's cruel and unusual punishment clause is not violated by the execution of mentally retarded defendants (Cook 869). I strongly concur with the United States Supreme Court's decision. I do not believe that mentally retarded defendants should be categorically exempt from the death penalty because of their retardation. I hold this position because IQ test results are sometimes unreliable, there are different degrees of understanding of right and wrong among mentally retarded persons with the same IQ, defendants who receive life sentences have a better life than the homeless, and there is no national consensus against executing the mentally retarded. Rather than giving a categorical exemption to the mentally retarded, I feel that each murder case involving a mentally retarded defendant should take into consideration the previously mentioned factors.

When a defendant is labeled mentally retarded, an IQ test is administered to determine the degree of retardation. What is mental retardation? Grossman, an expert in the field of intelligence testing, defines mental retardation as "significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period" (5-7). Thus, mental retardation is in essence a norm-referenced statistical creation and reflects no absolute judgements about intelligence but only the view that the labeled individual demonstrates lesser aptitude...

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...tal retardation as a mitigating circumstance." Drake Law Review V 39 (Spring 1990): 39.

Mercer, Jane R. Labelling the Mentally Retarded, Clinical and Social System Perspectives on Mental Retardation. St. Louis: Mosby, 1973.

Rumley, David L. "A License to kill: the categorical exemption of the mentally retarded. The Los Angeles Daily Journal V 24 (Spring 1993): 1299-1360.

Sattler, Jerome M. Assessment of Children. San Diego: Jerome M. Sattler, 1988.

Shapiro, Walter. "What Say Should Victims Have: A boy's anguish at watching the murder of his sister may change the death-penalty laws." Time V 137 (27 May 1991): 61.

Woody, Robert. Legal Aspects of Mental Retardation. Springfield: Charles C. Thomas, 1974.

Zigler, E. and E.A. Farber. The Gifted and Talented Developmental Perspectives. Washington DC: American Psychological Association, 1985.

In this essay, the author

  • Argues that iq does not adequately relate to measures of everyday functioning nor the understanding of right from wrong. in penry v lanaugh, justice o'connor states that there are various degrees of mental retardation.
  • Explains shapiro, walter, "what say should victims have: a boy's anguish at watching the murder of his sister may change the death-penalty laws."
  • Describes zigler, e., and a. farber's gifted developmental perspectives. the american psychological association, 1985.
  • Concurs with the united states supreme court's decision that mentally retarded defendants should not be exempt from the death penalty because of their retardation.
  • Argues that mental retarded murderers should not be treated as honored guests in our nation's penitentiaries.
  • Explains the eighth amendment - the death penalty and the mentally retarded criminal: fairness, culpability, and death.
  • Explains that the eighth amendment to the constitution does not prohibit the death penalty on capital defendants who are mentally retarded.
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