An attempt to provide understandable and up-to-date information regarding intelligence testing, intelligence theories, personal competence, adaptive behavior and intellectual disability (mental retardation) as they relate to death penalty (capital punishment) issues. A particular focus will be on psychological measurement, statistical and psychometric issues.
In 1986, the USSC ruled that it was a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution (cruel and unusual punishment) to execute someone who was 'insane'. (Ford v. Wainwright) In capital cases, a sentencing proceeding has, for many years, consisted of a jury hearing 'aggravating factors' from the state and 'mitigating factors' from the defense. Defense attorneys are now able to proffer someone's mental health history as a possible mitigating factor in capital cases, arguing that the mental illness played some role in the commission of the crime, and that therefore, the defendant should be sentenced to life imprisonment rather than death. A case called Eddings v. Oklahoma (1982) argued in front of the USSC resulted in a finding that the defense is entitled to use any possible mitigating evidence in a capital trial. Of course, the prosecution wants to present a strong case for capital punishment and therefore will present aggravating factors that include the defendant's propensity for violent behavior. Unfortunately, all too often these predictions of dangerousness are made in expert testimony where the expert is unaware of the real limitations documented in the research of predicting future violent behavior. In 2002, the USSC ruled that it was unconstitutional (again Eighth Amendment violation) to execute a mentally retarded defendant (Atkins v. Virginia). Unfortunately, several individual states adopted rather idiosyncratic definitions of mental retardation and some allowed the artificial inflation of I.Q. scores based on testimony that it was an 'ethnic adjustment'. This chapter describes some of the ways mental health professionals can work in death penalty clinics with defense attorneys or with state prosecutors on these cases.
Mitigators Aggravators Eddings v. Oklahoma Mental retardation Ethnic adjustment Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution Habeas petition