Friday, March 4, 2016

Assessing Adaptive Functioning in Death Penalty Cases after Hall and DSM-5

J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 44:1:96-105 (March 2016)

Assessing Adaptive Functioning in Death Penalty Cases after Hall and DSM-5

  1. Thomas J. Guilmette, PhD

+Author Affiliations

  1. Dr. Hagan is in independent practice and is Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk, VA; Dr. Drogin is Lecturer on Psychiatry (Part-Time), Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, serving in the Program in Psychiatry and the Law, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA; Dr. Guilmette is Professor of Psychology, Providence College, and Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Warren Alpert Medical School, Brown University, Providence, RI.
  1. Address correspondence to: Leigh D. Hagan, PhD, P.O. Box 350, Chesterfield, VA 23832. E-mail:


DSM-5 and Hall v. Florida (2014) have dramatically refocused attention on the assessment of adaptive functioning in death penalty cases. In this article, we address strategies for assessing the adaptive functioning of defendants who seek exemption from capital punishment pursuant to Atkins v. Virginia (2002). In particular, we assert that evaluations of adaptive functioning should address assets as well as deficits; seek to identify credible and reliable evidence concerning the developmental period and across the lifespan; distinguish incapacity from the mere absence of adaptive behavior; adhere faithfully to test manual instructions for using standardized measures of adaptive functioning; and account for potential bias on the part of informants. We conclude with brief caveats regarding the standard error of measurement (SEM) in light of Hall, with reference to examples of ordinary life activities that directly illuminate adaptive functioning relevant to capital cases.