Death Penalty and Intellectual Disability

Among their many vulnerabilities, people with intellectual disability (ID) are at increased risk of encountering the criminal justice system. Their greatest risk is that of victimization, but people with ID are also at risk for committing or being part of a group that commits violent crimes, including murder. In 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court in its Atkins v. Virginia decision ruled that imposition of the death penalty for people with ID (then called mental retardation) is a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

The Atkins decision meant that people with ID were the only group of people to be ineligible for the death penalty on the basis of a mental health diagnosis. For ...

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