Tuesday, May 4, 2010

MUST READ: Atkins best practice and standard recommendations (McVaugh & Cunningham, 2009)

I've been toying with the idea of jotting down a list of suggested "best practice" recommendations and suggested professional standards based on the mass of literature that I've been reading since starting the ICDP blog.  Every time I think I should start, I have been paralyzed by the sheer scope of the task....reading and taking notes from all relevant literature sources would take massive time...and I have no grad. assistants or employees.  I was thus thrilled when the following article arrived in my email inbox today.

Although I may not agree 100% with everything these authors state, I must say that with regard to what I have read to date, this article is probably the best single and solid source on suggested best practice and professional standard recommendations for the assessment and Dx of MR/ID in Atkins cases.  The authors present 20 different recommended guidelines covering a large number of the critical issues in assessment and DX of MR/ID in a legal context (e.g., practice effects, SEM, Flynn Effect, retrospective assessment of AB, adaptive behavior domains, different state statutes, etc.). 

This is a MUST read for all mental health professionals and folks in the legal profession who are involved in Atkins cases.  I think this document could serve as a foundational starting point for any group working on the development of standards and practice recommendations in Atkins MR/ID cases.

Kudos to the authors for the excellent work.  I plan to reread numerous times, and may add "my variations on a theme" to some of the specific guidelines (when time permits).

MacVaugh, G. & Cunningham, M. (2009).  Atkins v. Virginia: Implications and recommendations for forensic practice. The Journal of Psychiatry the Law, 37, 131-187 (click here to view)


In 2002, the United States Supreme Court held in the landmark case of Atkins v. Virginia that the execution of individuals who have mental retardation is unconstitutional. Following the Atkins holding, courts in death penalty jurisdictions have relied heavily upon mental health professionals in making a determination of whether or not capital offenders have mental retardation. The determination of mental retardation in death penalty cases, however, presents complex challenges for both courts and mental health professionals. In addition, there is variability in how death penalty states define mental retardation and in the assessment methods used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental retardation in such cases. The purpose of this article is to (a) describe how statutes in death penalty jurisdictions have operationalized the various clinical definitions of mental retardation, (b) discuss issues confronting examiners in assessing and diagnosing mental retardation in Atkins cases, and (c) provide recommendations for forensic practice.

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