JUSTICE STEVENS, FOR THE MAJORITY:
On the childlike mind of the mentally retarded:
". . . there is abundant evidence that they often act on impulse rather than pursuant to a premeditated plan, and that in group settings they are followers rather than leaders. Their deficiencies do not warrant an exemption from criminal sanctions, but they do diminish their personal culpability."
Also in this issue:
L.A. County's 10:
The Ultimate Test
On the nation's two stated goals of the death penalty -- retribution and deterrence:
". . . There is a serious question as to whether either justification that we have recognized as a basis for the death penalty applies to mentally retarded offenders. Unless the imposition of the death penalty on a mentally retarded person measurably contributes to one or both of these goals, it is nothing more than the purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering, and hence an unconstitutional punishment."
On the issue of culpability:
"If the culpability of the average murderer is insufficient to justify the most extreme sanction available to the State, the lesser culpability of the mentally retarded offender surely does not warrant that form of retribution."
On the problems mentally retarded suspects face dealing with the criminal justice system:
"Mentally retarded defendants in the aggregate face a special risk of wrongful execution because of the possibility that they will unwittingly confess to crimes they did not commit, their lesser ability to give their counsel meaningful assistance, and the facts that they are typically poor witnesses and that their demeanor may create an unwarranted impression of lack of remorse for their crimes."
JUSTICE SCALIA'S DISSENT:
Rejecting the special risks faced by the mentally retarded:
"The Court throws one last factor into its grab bag of reasons why execution of the retarded is excessive in all cases: Mentally retarded offenders face a special risk of wrongful execution because they are less able to make a persuasive showing of mitigation, to give meaningful assistance to their counsel, and to be effective witnesses. Special risk is pretty flabby language (even flabbier than less likely) and I suppose a similar special risk could be said to exist for just plain stupid people, inarticulate people, even ugly people."
Predicting fake claims:
"This newest invention promises to be more effective than any of the others in turning the process of capital trial into a game. One need only read the definitions of mental retardation adopted by the American Association of Mental Retardation and the American Psychiatric Association to realize that the symptoms of this condition can readily be feigned."
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