20th Anniversary: Assessing the Purported SCOTUS Ban on Executing Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities

From the Death Penalty Information Center: “In its landmark decision in Atkins v. Virginia in 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the use of the death penalty against individuals with intellectual disability constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Twenty years later, however, “there is not just the risk, but the certainty” that states continue to sentence intellectually disabled defendants to death, three legal scholars argue, and the federal courts are letting them get away with it.”

Brendan Van Winkle, the Capital Punishment Fellow at Justice 360, and Cornell Law School Professors Sheri Lynn Johnson and John Blume examine the aftermath of the Atkins ruling, saying that while a “significant number of people with intellectual disability have been removed from death row or spared the death penalty because of Atkins,” the Court’s ostensibly categorical ban has been far less than categorical, “as many other persons that should be ineligible for the death penalty have had their assertions of intellectual disability rejected.”

“Some of the non-enforcement of Atkins has been by design, the authors say, as ‘recalcitrant state courts and legislatures … have created procedural and substantive obstacles that often effectively nullify the constitutional ban’ against sentencing intellectually disabled defendants to death and executing them. Johnson, Blume, and Van Winkle point to onerous procedural requirements and diagnostically invalid definitions of intellectual disability that, they argue, make proof of the disorder a practical impossibility.”

Read full article here.