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Capital Punishment Essay: Retardation And Capital Punishment

793 words - 3 pages

Retardation and Capital Punishment

    One can agree (or not) with the recent ruling by the Supreme Court that the death penalty should not apply to retarded citizens because it violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment," and still be troubled by the twisted road the court took to reach its destination. Reading the history of the Eighth Amendment shows that it proceeded from concerns over the methods the state could use to take the life of a convicted criminal -- not the intelligence level of the criminal.


When the Constitution was adopted, the British penalty for high treason was to have the convicted person "hanged by the neck and then cut down alive, then he was disemboweled while yet living. His head was cut off and his body divided into four parts for disposition by the King"(Norton). Among punishments for other crimes, English law provided for cutting off the ears, flogging, cutting off hands, castrating, standing in the pillory, slitting of the nose and branding on the cheek. Now THAT was cruel and unusual punishment.


The Supreme Court, in its decision, said that persons deemed retarded -- with an IQ of 70 or less -- and judged guilty of a capital crime, cannot be executed. In so ruling, the court majority moved from the intention of the Founders, which was to make execution more humane, to focusing on the status of the guilty, which appears not to have entered the Founders' minds while crafting the Eighth Amendment.


The case on which this judicial overreach was decided involved a Virginia man, Daryl Renard Atkins, who, along with another man, abducted Eric Nesbitt at the point of a semiautomatic handgun, robbed him of the money on his person, and drove Nesbitt to an ATM machine in his pickup truck, where cameras recorded the withdrawal of additional cash. The men then took Nesbitt to an isolated location where he was shot eight times and killed. Atkins was judged to have an IQ of 59, though details of the crime seem to indicate he knew what he was doing.


In the majority decision, written by Justice John Paul Stevens, the court cited "public opinion," which it said had shifted since a 1989 case in which the court decided the opposite of last week's ruling. It also cited the views of professional and religious organizations, and even the "world community," which tended to support the opinion...

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