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Mental Retardation and the Death Penalty

The execution of mentally retarded prisoners has been a controversial topic for decades. The U.S. Supreme Court has found, in Atkins v. Virginia(2002), that such executions are unconstitutional; this decision was partially based on the community's evolving standards of decency. The legal system requires mental health professionals to determine whether a prisoner is mentally retarded, which is a difficult and controversial task.

In 1989, the Supreme Court in Penry v. Lynaugh had determined that the mentally retarded, as a class, should not be protected from receiving the death penalty. Instead, defendants' mental status should be considered on a case-by-case basis, with individual factors determining whether each defendant is eligible for the death penalty. The Court found that individuals with mental retardation vary greatly in their capacity ...

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