Mentally Retarded Criminals Must Face The Death Penalty

2793 words - 11 pages

     This paper will discuss whether or not mentally retarded criminals should be held accountable for their actions with the punishment of execution when the crime is murder. I do not believe that mentally retarded criminals should have a blanket exemption from the death penalty because of their mental incapacity. Although all cases of murder involving a mentally retarded suspect are unique, the lives extinguished by these murderers are of no less value than those whose lives taken by mentally competent murderers. Presently, the Supreme Court of the United States upholds the execution of mentally retarded defendants and holds the belief that capital punishment does not violate the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Federal Constitution's eighth amendment (Wilson 345-346). While several states have passed laws exempting all mentally retarded defendants from execution, the Supreme Court has not changed its view on the matter (Shapiro, "Innocent, and": 43). Could it be that many states are focusing on the individual, while the Supreme Court is focusing on the crime itself? If this is the case, I have to agree with the Supreme Court. Law and justice must focus on what the person has done, not on who the person is.


While doing research on this subject, I found a large amount of factual data and differing opinions on the subject of capital punishment for the mentally retarded. An issue with most of the research is whether or not mentally retarded suspects really committed the murders of which they are accused or whether they confessed to them in order to please the police who are questioning them. Two articles that address this issue are "Untrue Confessions" by Jill Smolowe, and "Movement to Free Convicted Rapist-Killer Stirs Controversy" by Brigitte Greenberg. Another issue is whether or not the IQ tests administered to defendants in a murder case are a valid measure of intelligence since the resulting IQ score may free a criminal from execution. One article that goes into detail about this issue is an article taken from the St. Louis University Law Journal written by Virginia Wilson. A third issue is whether the mentally retarded suspect can distinguish right from wrong and and understand the consequences of wrongful acts. One Article that explains this issue is "Innocent and free at last" by Joseph P. Shapiro. The arguments against execution of the mentally retarded usually are based on the assumption that mentally retarded people confess to crimes that they did not commit because they want to please authority figures such as police. Richard Ofshe, a sociologist at the University of California and specialist in interrogation techniques, feels that mentally retarded people like to accommodate when in a disagreement. For them, agreeing is a way of surviving. To get a confession from such people, he adds "is like taking candy from a baby" (Smolowe 51). While all cases are different, I do not ...

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