Atkins v. Virginia, Argued before the Supreme Court of the United States of America, February 20, 2002–Decided June 20, 2002 (OMM #7)

Please read the following texts:

If, for some reason, these links don’t work, please go to the handouts page of our website. They are listed there, all under “Atkins v. Virginia.”

These texts may be challenging for you, but you should that you can read the actual opinions handed down by the Supreme Court.  Not bad for 13 or 14-year-olds!

Remember the strategies we talked about in class:  Notice when you are not understanding something.   Knowing you have a problem is the first step to solving it!   Talk to a friend about it.  Read over any responses already posted here.  They may help you understand more about the text even before you read it.  Re-read.  I often have to re-read difficult texts several times and even then I may not fully understand.

Here are some strategies that help me:

  1. I go back to where I last had a clue and re-read from there.
  2. If the text is really, really hard for me (as this one is, I must admit) I look over the whole thing and try to get a sense of organization of the text.  Are there sections that have headings?  If there are, I read it section by section keeping the heading in mind as a guide.  If there is no heading or title, I try to think what the heading. might be if there were one.
  3. For the most difficult texts that I read I go paragraph by paragraph and think about (or even jot down) what the gist of each paragraph is.  This is time consuming and rather annoying, but it works for me with really, really difficult non-fiction.
  4. TURN OFF THE NOISE!  That means no computer open (if I’m not actually reading online), no music playing,  no texting while you read.  Multi-tasking is a myth.  Difficult tasks require real concentration.
  5. Be kind to yourself.  This is really hard stuff, and it’s your first time (I assume?) that you are reading actual legal documents.   Do not get so frustrated that you scrunch the paper up and throw it across the room!  Keep breathing.  You’ll be fine.

For your written response here, please give your understanding of the case and Justice Stevens’ reasons for his opinion.  Then, explain whether you agree or disagree with Justice Stevens or not.   How would you find if you were on the Supreme Court?

OMM blog #7

35 thoughts on “Atkins v. Virginia, Argued before the Supreme Court of the United States of America, February 20, 2002–Decided June 20, 2002 (OMM #7)

  1. “and concluded that death is not a suitable punishment for a mentally retarded criminal”
    In the end, it was concluded that death is not a reasonable punishment. In this case, I feel it may have been, but I’m not a member of the Supreme Court so don’t listen to me. I feel that an issue like this one, shouldn’t have a set procedure. It is different in every case. So by saying that every mentally handicapped person shouldn’t be punished with death, is controversial. For instance, in Lennie’s case, it could be argued he was way better off dead. Obviously, this is fictional, but it shows how not every case is the same.

    • Great job! I agree that not all cases are the same so there shouldn’t be one solid answer for all cases. Keep up the great work.

    • This is a great idea! One thing to point out though: the judge decides only what is lawful, not necessarily the right thing to do. It is very far from perfect, as every case is indeed different, but that’s a judge’s job.

  2. The case was originally about what would happen to Atkins for robbing a person, then taking him to the ATM for more money, and then shooting him eight times. Then, it became about whether or not being mentally retarded can cause a criminal to be exempt from the death penalty because it goes against the eighth amendment. Although being mentally retarded may cause a person to act differently, I believe that a person in a condition such as this must pay for their crimes. Also, how come William Jones did not get into any major trouble? They committed the crime together. The case should have never shifted to being mentally retarded or not. Although that is my opinion, many may disagree. Justice Stevens believes that “Construing and applying the Eighth Amendment in the light of our ‘evolving standards of decency,’ we therefore conclude that such punishment is excessive and that the Constitution ‘places a substantive restriction on the State’s power to take the life’ of a mentally retarded offender.” Justice Stevens believes that “Mentally retarded defendants in the aggregate face a special risk of wrongful execution.” I disagree with Justice Stevens. Atkins had a partner help commit the crime and Jones was not considered mentally retarded. He should have taken the blame and during the incident, even not do such a thing. Although Atkins is not only to blame for this act, he definitely deserves the penalty and Jones definitely deserves to be in big trouble as well.

    • I feel differently. I feel like it was good for the case to shift to the idea of mental disabilities. It is a topic that should be discussed, and I am glad that they are discussing it, because people with mental disabilities have no control, and it really isn’t their fault for not knowing whether things are right or wrong. Anyways, your blog was amazing. Great job!

  3. After reading the court case of Atkins v. Virginia a couple of times, I’m still very stumped. I just don’t know what to believe in because I wasn’t there at this hearing and I can see both sides. On one side we have what Justice Stevens said and how “because of their disabilities in areas of reasoning, judgement, and control of their impulses, however, they do not act with the level of moral culpability that characterizes the most serious adult criminal conduct.” It is true that when one is mentally retarded they don’t know what their doing. Instead of letting him free there definitely should be a punishment but what should it be? Maybe he should be just sent to a psychiatric ward or something which can teach him what to do instead of just punishing him. However, we can not forget how Atkins was under the influence of drugs. By adding this factor, I think that we have to see how maybe the drugs made him do it and not his brain. Also, he killed a man and that’s the law. Another factor is that the Amendments were made a long time ago so can it be “expired.” What are the guidelines for being mentally retarded and what is a cruel punishment? For these reason, I do not rule for or against the death penalty in this situation because I simply don’t know and I need more information. If I was on the Supreme Court I think I would have a better understanding of this and will actually be able to vote for one. For example my main question would be, was this planned or just happened out of nowhere? If it was planned then he had time to think and he had a partner to tell him. If not, then he doesn’t deserve the death penalty. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I needed to be there in the court for me to be able to pick a side.

    • Great blog! I liked how you brought up the fact that Atkins was under the influence of drugs while committing this crime with his friend. Keep up the good work! 🙂

  4. Here we see a very hotly contested debate, should mentally retarded people be executed for their crimes? The Supreme Court eventually ruled no, stating that, “death is not a suitable punishment for a mentally retarded criminal.” Personally I see this as the right choice, generally and morally. However this choice becomes muddled when it comes down to two specific characteristics-what is the definition of “mentally retarded,” and, how does this apply to individual cases. First, the case with the definition of “mentally retarded.” The Court leaves it up to each individual state to decide what this means and how it will proceed with the trial. I find this inconsistent, because as we talked about in class, being retarded is determined by your IQ. Further, this can be affected by a slew of conditions, especially the tester. This means that depending on the tester, provided by the state, one person who is actually disabled mentally could get a high enough score on the test to be tried as an a person of average intelligence. Meanwhile, a person of average intelligence could go free because of their test. Now, to the other issue of the matter, the individual persons case. While these people are generally excluded from execution, if a person commits a very, very bad crime, the same debate is sparked-should he be killed or not. I think yes, but the Majority Opinion seems to say “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” But, because of the deficiencies that this person may suffer, they might not be able to participate in the case. This leads me to my final point. I do think this is a good ruling, because it addresses an issue that needed to be discussed. But it is lacking when you look a little deeper. I feel they could have done a lot better because of these problems, so ultimately while I agree, I don’t support the ruling.

    • Great Job, Matthew B. Clifford! Your response was terrific and provide great analysis and opinion. I liked the way you flawlessly transitioned from fact to opinion in your writing. Keep up the great work!

  5. Woah! What a read! This was a very challenging piece of text for me, so I really had to focus. Where shall I start? Ah, OK, from the beginning…
    The case was about a man named Atkins, who was sentenced for death for robbing and shooting a man with the help of another. He was sentenced to death. Period. However, this case got a little interesting…
    Atkins had an IQ of 59, and was mentally disabled. Is it right to sentence a mentally disabled person to death? From one point of view, they must be killed, I mean, it’s the law. However, the mentally disabled lack judgement. It is not their fault for not having enough control over their thoughts and actions. The text states,

    Because of their impairments, however, by definition they have diminished capacities to understand and process information, to communicate, to abstract from mistakes and learn from experience, to engage in logical reasoning, to control impulses, and to understand the reactions of others. There is no evidence that they are more likely to engage in criminal conduct than others, but 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.

    Although there is no direct data that the mentally disabled commit more crimes, their actions are very implusive. It is more likely for them to choose the wrong decision. Because of this, some might say that sentencing the mentally disabled to death is wrong. The Eight Amendment states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Does this apply to the mentally disabled? In my opinion it does, it would be cruel to sentence a mentally disabled person, who has no control, and who lacks judgement. It is not their fault that they are disabled. However there is no “correct” answer. The world is evolving so what is considered cruel and unusual might be different.

    “…and concluded that death is not a suitable punishment for a mentally retarded criminal.”
    I agree. Although murder is a serious crime, (I would be very very upset if I was family of Eric Nesbitt) it would be unfair for Atkins. He is mentally disabled, and that is not his fault. He does not deserve death, but he does need punishment and help.

    I was going over this and I noticed that the text states “that in group settings they are followers rather than leaders.” Did Atkins follow the lead of Jones? I know that this is already solved, but I just think it’s weird that Atkins would have shot if they are saying that the mentally disabled people are followers, not leaders. I mean, you have to be a big leader to commit a murder.

  6. In the majority opinion, three points about mentally disabled individuals being exempt from the death penalty no matter what crime they have committed. The first point is about the line in the constitution that states that unusual or cruel punishment is not allowed. Since this topic was last visited in the case of Penry, many things have changed in the world, and perspectives of the death penalty have evolved. More people do not accept this sort of penalty as humane, and many countries are outlawing the act. There are still countries who still allow it and have carried it out, but it is very uncommon. Therefore, because it is done so little, the punishment is unusual, and therefore it is outlawed by the constitution, meaning Atkins should not be executed. The second point is about mentally disabled people’s ability to learn from their mistakes. An execution of a mentally disabled person is not likely to teach other mentally disabled people that a certain crime is wrong. Therefore, there is no point in executing Atkins, as it will not send the desired message. The third point is about the mentally disabled people’s ability to defend themselves and justify their alleged actions. These individuals are unable to correctly and fluidly explain their actions and defend their actions, and therefore are disadvantaged in a trial. They may provide inconsistent and/or illogical information due to their condition, and therefore could be incorrectly sentenced to the death penalty. Therefore, the mentally disabled should not be able to be sentenced to be executed because of their inability to defend themselves effectively.

  7. After reading Justice Stevens’ opinion of the Court, I still don’t know what to think. Stevens stated that people with mental disabilities should not be subject to the death penalty. His reasons for this were that a) the Eighth Amendment does not allow cruel or unusual punishments, and executing a mentally disabled person would be considered one, b) the mentally disabled do not learn from their mistakes, and so might do dangerous things in the future, and c) mentally disabled people cannot defend themselves like people with higher IQ’s can. I don’t know if I agree or not. The punishment should be decided on the situation. If a mentally disabled person were to do something like kill hundreds of people by setting off a bomb, then I think that the death penalty should be used. But if the crime committed was not as serious, then it is not necessary for the use of the death penalty. If I was on the Supreme Court, which thankfully I am not, I would have probably ruled for the prohibition of the death penalty. Mentally disabled people do not have the high enough understanding of what they are doing and who they are affecting as we do. Like Lennie, they might not know their strengths.

    • About your comment about using the death penalty in depending on the situation- I don’t think that the death penalty would even be an option of the situation didn’t call for it. The decision comes in in the extreme case that it is needed. Great job though!

  8. “The judgment of the Virginia Supreme Court is reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion [that the death penalty is excessive].
    It is so ordered.”

    Honestly, when first considering this case, I was really on the fence about whether the death penalty is appropriate or not. However, after reading the article, I’m going to agree with Judge Stevens, and say that the death penalty was excessive, or at least unnecessary. I agree with many of the points presented in the article. Perhaps the most convincing one was that “the diminished ability to understand and process information, to learn from experience, to engage in logical reasoning, or to control impulses–that also make it less likely that they can process the information of the possibility of execution as a penalty and, as a result, control their conduct based upon that information. Nor will exempting the mentally retarded from execution lessen the deterrent effect of the death penalty with respect to offenders who are not mentally retarded. Such individuals are unprotected by the exemption and will continue to face the threat of execution. Thus, executing the mentally retarded will not measurably further the goal of deterrence.” I mean, a mentally retarded person would generally lack the ability to process and learn from their own mistakes, much less those of other people. The purpose of a punishment is not just to bring justice to the offender or make the offender feel repentance for their actions (although those are some of the points), but it is also so that others have the opportunity to learn from someone else’s mistakes. Thus, the punishment motivates them not to do it. If a mentally retarded person cannot learn from the mistakes of others, there is no point of having a death penalty at all, and so jail would be the best punishment, since that way the offender would not be able to commit more crimes. At that point, “ ‘… it “is nothing more than the purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering,” and hence an unconstitutional punishment.’ Enmund, 458 U.S., at 798.” However, “With respect to deterrence–the interest in preventing capital crimes by prospective offenders–‘it seems likely that “capital punishment can serve as a deterrent only when murder is the result of premeditation and deliberation,” ’ Enmund, 458 U.S., at 799. Exempting the mentally retarded from that punishment will not affect the ‘cold calculus that precedes the decision’ of other potential murderers. Gregg, 428 U.S., at 186. Indeed, that sort of calculus is at the opposite end of the spectrum from behavior of mentally retarded offenders. The theory of deterrence in capital sentencing is predicated upon the notion that the increased severity of the punishment will inhibit criminal actors from carrying out murderous conduct.” In the end, it was this argument that swayed me to believe that the death penalty is not necessary when it comes to mentally retarded offenders.

  9. This very challenging article discussed the question of whether mentally disabled people should be subject to the death penalty. The main argument against the death penalty was that the 8th Amendment says that excessive penalties are not allowed, and the death penalty was excessive for mentally ill people since they have less control over themselves. After all the debate it was decided that the death penalty does not apply to mentally ill people. Personally I don’t agree with this conclusion. One of the main reasons for a death penalty is to prevent the criminal from hurting more people. Although a person may be mentally ill, they still are a threat to people. If you think about it, they might actually be more of a threat since they won’t learn from previous mistakes. If a mentally ill person is capable of committing a crime, they are capable of accepting the consequences for it. If someone is a threat towards others, just as someone else who commits the same crime may be, then they should be punished the same way in my opinion.

    • I enjoyed reading your blog. I have different opinions on the use of the death penalty and liked reading your opposing view. Mentally disabled persons aren’t in control of their actions like we are. I agree that the law should punish mentally inconvenienced people if they commit a crime, but the punishment should be less severe since it isn’t really their fault. Instead of shunning these people out of society, we should support treatments and facilities to help these people live as close to normal as they safely can.

  10. I initially thought that only old works of English could be challenging. It turns out I was wrong. The Atkins v. Virginia case attempted to determine the right punishment for a mentally impaired felon named Daryl Renard Atkins. What happened was Atkins and his accomplice, William Jones, robbed Eric Nesbitt of the money he had on him. Then Atkins and Jones abducted Nesbitt and took him to an ATM so Nesbitt could give them more money. Afterward, Atkins and Jones took Nesbitt to an isolated area where one of them shot him eight times, killing him. After Atkins and Jones testified in court, the Jury determined Atkins was the person who shot Nesbitt. The court made a deal with Jones and punished him with life in prison and Atkins was sentenced to death. Atkins’ attorneys appealed the decision eventually up to the supreme court. The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishments. Since Atkins is mentally inconvenienced, he has a diminished ability to control his impulses, understand information, or process information. The Supreme Court case “Gregg v. Georgia, identified “retribution and deterrence of capital crimes by prospective offenders” as the social purposes served by the death penalty. 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.” Atkins condition prevents him from being deterred by the death penalty, nor acts as a reasonable penalty. Other reasons against the death penalty for developmentally impaired individuals include the growing national consensus against the death penalty for use against mentally challenged persons and other supreme court rulings. Stevens’ believes Atkins’ inabilities “do not warrant an exemption from criminal sanctions, but they do diminish their [Mentally disabled individuals’] personal culpability.” Ultimately, a majority of the justices ruled that capital punishment was unnecessary and returned the case to a lower court. This court case included a defense based on the novel “Of Mice and Men” which we recently read in class. I am surprised at the substantial effect that some of the books, which we read in class, have on modern America.

    • Nice job Devan. I that a mentally retarded person should not be have to endure such pain and suffering for a pointless goal. Executing such a person would not achieve the goal of the death penalty, which would be to deter future criminals.

  11. Atkins v. Virginia is a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 6-3 that executing people with intellectual disabilities violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel punishments such as death. This case proved to be a landmark case especially towards the mentally disabled. There are many aspects of this case that are difficult to assess when determining whether someone is “mentally retarded.” For example, when using a simple IQ test to discover someone’s intelligence, there can be a lot of variables that can skew the data. An average-brained person can be seen as retarded when they aren’t in reality, and vice versa. This can be unfair to a mentally retarded person that was seen as average via IQ test. When discussing the death penalty, I believe that it’s wrong to execute someone on a crime, regardless of how bad it is. There could have been a false accusation, or some legal mistake made to wrongly to force someone who is innocent to face jail time or die with the death penalty. Also, people change and are proven to act differently when having it brought to a large scale for the better. That being said, I believe that if the death penalty is used, it should apply to all people including the mentally disabled. If people are going to be executed for committing crimes such as capital murder, “mentally retarded” people should also be treated the same way. In the case of the “mentally retarded,” chances are that they don’t know better and will likely carry out the same type of actions, whether it’s murder or other criminal activities. I believe that executing the death penalty towards the mentally ill can be beneficial for everyone making people feel safer. Would you want someone mentally ill killing or harming people without knowing any better, and not get proper consequences to prevent the violence? Ultimately, I believe that the death penalty should be issued for the mentally ill, especially if it’s in use for everyone else.

  12. In the case Atkins v. Virginia, the defendant Daryl Renard Atkins is tried for murder. However, a debate surfaces when his attorney says he shouldn’t be sentenced to death, since he was mentally retarded. Therefore, he didn’t do it willfully. The final verdict was that the capital penalty was prohibited for those with mental disabilities, but states could define if a person is mentally disabled. One reason behind this ruling was because, like in Enmund v. Florida putting Atkins to death would not “contribute to the retributive end of ensuring that the criminal gets his just deserts.” In other words, if Atkins’ mental retardation was the root of his inability to understand what he was doing and therefore the murder, then a death penalty would be unfit as retribution because he would not deserve it. In addition, Justice Stevens warrants that Atkins should not be liable to the death penalty because a national consensus has developed against using such punishment on the mentally retarded. Finally, because the court states that because capital punishment can only deter future criminals when murder is the result of premeditation and deliberation, exempting the mentally retarded will not encourage other potential murderers because people like Atkins don’t intend their crime. I agree with Justice Stevens. Because the mentally retarded don’t mean to commit crimes like murder, sentencing them to death would not accomplish anything. It would not serve as retribution, and not giving them the capital penalty would not coax other potential criminals because they would be deciding to do it deliberately. Moreover, the Supreme Court attempts to rule the case in light of America’s evolving standards of decency and humanity. By withholding execution, we can start to build up better values and virtue.

  13. Tonight we read the court case Of Atkins vs Virginia, in this case Atkins and his partner did horrible things to innocent people and killed a man that they stole money from. these facts are undeniable and they happened, but when asked the question of who shot him eight times and who was actually to be punished for the murder of this man some investigating had to be done. When they eventually found out from a source that it was Atkins who killed that man that night, after he admitted it to a cell number the trial for his punishment commenced. A struggle in our government throughout the years has been what is cruel and unusual punishment and what is not. In this particular court case, they looked into Atkins IQ to see if he was in right mind or have been educated to know that this was the wrong thing to do. When they found out his IQ was a 50 they classified him as mentally retarded, they were not one hundred percent sure that this was an accurate representation of his state of mind or not. But, unfortunately or not so they did they have to go with the information that they had. For years they went back and forth over if a death penalty would be the correct punishment for Atkins. The court had to decide if it would be fair to punish him in that way if he really was mentally retarded. It took a lot of people and a lot of investigating to try and make the decision for how they were to come to a verdict. Being in this position is something I most likely wouldn’t be capable of handling. You would wonder day-in-and-day-out if you were making the right choices, if you were really avenging the death of an innocent man and giving the punishment the murderer deserved or if you would possibly be taking well life that didn’t deserve to be taken away. These are probably some of the battles and midnight thoughts that the justices had during this case and wouldn’t stop until it ended, and maybe not even then.

  14. In class today, we read the case of Atkins v. Virginia. The case was simple, so it seemed. One man, Daryl Renard Atkins with his friend and partner, William Jones, abducted a man, Eric Nesbit, stole his money, and then shot him eight times. However during this time, Daryl was under the intoxication of marijuana as well as alcohol. When questioned about this incident, Jones had more of a clear cut story than Atkins, and was offered a deal. Therefore, Atkins was sentenced to death. However, his attorneys fought on the basis of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits any cruel or unusual punishment. Atkins scored an IQ score of a 59; thus, labeling him as “mentally retarded”. There are multiple factors that could’ve caused Atkins to get such a low score, such as stress, his state of mind or even his current environment. It is neither just nor fair to sentence Atkins for the death penalty. Similarly, we saw Lennie in the same situation. Although, it is fiction, we saw the story from a different view point and we developed emotions and sympathy for Lennie as we followed his day to day life. Throughout the years of our presidency, and the different political climates, there have countless discussions involving the death penalty. I believe that when mentally ill or “retarded”, it is very hard to actually understand what you are doing, if it’s right or wrong. There is no perception of consequences. I think that the mentally ill should be exempt from the death penalty if there is thorough evidence that proves that they had no brain capacity to fully understand what they were doing. However, it is still very difficult, to determine if this was intended or just an effect of their actions. It would be very hard to sit in the chair of someone who took a part in making this decision.

  15. In the Supreme Court’s ruling, there was a heavy debate over whether it whether it’s unnecessarily/excessively cruel to sentence the mentally retarded to the capital punishment. There were three main arguments (that I noticed at least) against it: one being that the 8th amendment is vague for interpretation as social standards change: “Construing and applying the Eighth Amendment in the light of our evolving standards of decency, we therefore conclude that such punishment is excessive and that the Constitution places a substantive restriction on the State’s power to take the life of a mentally retarded offender.” The second was that the capital punishment is meant to prevent others from committing such crimes. As such, mentally retarded individuals will be significantly less likely to learn or be scared off by such lessons, hence rendering the punishment useless. The third main argument I piked up was the idea that the mentally retarded simply have no self control, and hence no intention of committing such crimes. This is the same reason minors are not punished as severely as adults. That system is in place because minors’ brains are believed to not have developed to the point where they can make independent decisions, so if an adult would be mentally incapacitated, they are not capable of making independent decisions as well. On the other hand, there were two main arguments that I picked up on that were for the capital punishment. The first is the fact that no matter the intention or circumstance, a mentally retarded individual who committed a crime has still nevertheless done damage deemed worthy of execution. Regardless of their mental ability, the damage is done and people want justice for the individual’s actions. The second argument is based off of the same reasoning of one of the arguments against the capital punishment: that mentally retarded individuals won’t learn. A mentally retarded individual who is sentenced to life in prison still has a chance that they’ll kill another person. The person will not realize that they have been saved, nor that they are lucky to still be alive at all. For them, it will be life as normal, just in a different place. Even if they do realize that though, they have a good chance that they’ll act on impulse pretty quickly if someone taunts them. Overall, to prevent future risk, the individual is better off dead. One more point that I didn’t find argued in the case though, was that people can fake retardation to receive a reduced penalty. There are many examples of how hugely infamous criminals use loopholes in the judicial system to get freed or a reduced sentence. For them, it will not take a lot of effort to seem retarded if it means they’ll get a reduced sentence for free. Ultimately, though, the Supreme Court ruled that it is indeed cruel to punish the mentally retarded with a capital punishment.

    • Great response Emils. I like how you pointed out every aspect on both sides of the spectrum. I like how you talked about minors when it comes to capital punishment because that makes a lot of sense. You also talked about how the justice system is flawed and Atkins could have been faking it. While I don’t agree with this statement, it is an interesting idea to think about.

  16. Atkins and his accomplice were arrested for abducting, robbing, and killing a man. It was decided that Atkins had been the one to pull the trigger on the man. During further investigation, people saw that Atkins had a very low IQ, and had mental retardation. This raised the question of if he should be given the capital punishment or if he should be given immunity due to the Eighth Amendment. The Eighth Amendment states that “cruel and unusual punishment cannot be inflicted.” People argued that Atkins should not get the death penalty for his crimes. And that was the end result of this case. Based on my understanding of this case and my own opinion, Atkins should have been put to death. He still killed a man, and who is to say that he wouldn’t do it again.

  17. Despite not being very known, this case is pretty important in our history. The law made as a result of this case made it so that anyone who is “mentally retarded” cannot be given the death punishment, because of the fact that they don’t have the ability to defend their own case. In my opinion, unless it has to do with several committed murders, I think that the death punishment is cruel. That is basically the “eye for an eye” principle. I think that this law is a very good law, but it has some loopholes in it. Some people could just find a way to “cheat” and be diagnosed as mentally retarded, so they can avoid death punishment.

  18. In the end, what Justice Stevens is saying here is that the execution of mentally disabled persons is unconstitutional under the the 8th amendment. He gives evidence of this, starting with the topic of proportion. The 8th Amendment states that the punishment relating to a crime must be proportional to said crime and not be excessive. One should not punish excessively for a mental health condition such as addiction to illicit substances. He uses the argument that similarly, one should no be excessively punished for something they did that was influenced by said health condition. He then begins a lengthy explanation of how common mental disabilities would affect a person’s ability to take care of themselves and to make decisions that are their own. Using the evidence that mentally disabled people are often followers in groups, a large part of their actions may be more based off the disability than rational thought. The final evidence he uses that is very clear and evident in the Atkins v. Virginia trial is that the said mentally disabled persons may not have the ability or incentive to act in a way that would better their well being during a trial.

  19. Justice Stevens and the court came to the conclusion that no mentally disabled people can be executed. He came to this by assessing the fact that mentally disabled often cannot defend themselves well in court and can be easily tricked and influenced. He also stated that many times a mentally disabled person doesn’t fully understand the crime they’ve committed, often times they can’t differentiate between good and bad. Justice Stevens and the court also believed executing somebody mentally disabled could be considered cruel and unusual punishment under the Eight Amendment.
    I have to disagree with the court on this one. I think execution for the mentally disabled should be treated on a case by case basis. What if someone has 69 iq so they’re only barely mentally challenged, and they murder hundred of children. That is a death penalty worthy offense and they are only barely disabled. I think lumping every mentally disabled person together isn’t right. Every case is going to be different. Even in Atkins case, I think he knew what he did was wrong especially since he tried to blame Jones even though he confessed to a cell mate that he was the one who actually did it.
    Besides, you cannot shoot a man eight times, extort and kidnap him without knowing that what you are doing is wrong. He may have been pressured by Jones to do what he did but mentally disabled or not everybody is able to pressured heavily. The crime was so vicious and grand that Atkins should’ve kept his original penalty. He also proposed future dangerousness as well which further reinforces that fact that he should’ve kept his original sentence.

  20. After reading through the whole case of Atkins vs Virginia the ruling ended up excluding Atkins from the death penalty for his crime of Robbing and shooting someone 8 times. Justice Stevens explained how “Construing and applying the Eighth Amendment in the light of our ‘evolving standards of decency,’ we therefore conclude that such punishment is excessive and that the Constitution ‘places a substantive restriction on the State’s power to take the life’ of a mentally retarded offender.” He also states that because he was mentally ill Atkins couldn’t understand or comprehend what he was actually doing. Although it is true that people with mental illness have trouble understanding and learning, it should not be a reason on why someone would commit such a cruel crime. Justice Stevens is making mental illness and disabilities as an excuse to not get severely punished.The Supreme Court is generalizing mental illness into one broad subject, even though it is much more complicated. As a result Mental illness should be considered differently for every case. Also It was clear that this wasn’t Atkins first time getting into trouble with the law so it makes no sense that he should be excluded from the death penalty. After his first offense he should have been taken to psychiatric ward to be treated so that a crime like this murder could have never happened. All in all I believe that Atkins should have been sentenced the death penalty.

  21. In my opinion, this is a tough case because there are big pros and cons on the idea of capital punishment towards mentally disabled people. Of course my first thought is I don’t think anyone who is mentally retarded should be subject to capital punishment because although they know right from wrong, they act on impulse and a lot of times don’t understand body language or reasoning. I have mentally disabled people in my family, so I know that they do things they don’t mean, and they act on impulse. Atkins obviously wanted money, so he would do anything to get it. Plain and simple, people that are truly mentally retarded shouldn’t be subject to capital punishment because their minds work differently, we can see that in of Mice and Men with Lennie. Technically, Atkins fit the definition of mentally retarded, “clinical definitions of mental retardation require not only subaverage intellectual functioning, but also significant limitations in adaptive skills such as communication, self-care, and self-direction.” However, exactly what was Atkins himself capable of, and was this a premeditated murder? At first I thought this wasn’t the case, but they did have the gun with them to begin with, so I don’t know. I think they need to examine Atkins more, because they are going of of an IQ test and the fact his statements were incoherent in trial. I think he is mentally retarded, but it is hard to pinpoint exactly how his mind works. He did kill a man, and he obviously knew that was wrong. I think to truly come to a definitive answer, I want to discuss and research more about this case in general.

    • Great points Patsy! I find myself wondering the same thing: Did Atkins have the intent of murder? I don’t believe so, but I’d like to hear other thoughts too.

  22. Based on our case readings of Atkins v. Virginia and the Stevens’ majority opinion document, I believe that criminals with mental disabilities should be capable of receiving the death penalty. However, this should only be in the most serious conditions that are given. For example, I understand that a mentally ill person is not fully capable to make wise decisions due to their judgement being impaired. However, this complicated situation does classify mentally ill people as a liability to society. While a mentally ill person may not realize the consequences of what they are doing, the will know quickly if they are doing something wrong based on how other people react. Therefor, if punishing the mentally ill using the death penalty will keep others in society safer, the action should be taken.

    However, the situation varies depending on every case, which is why judges should not use previous verdicts to decide a case today. For example, a mentally ill person should receive jail time if they commit murder, robbery, etc. This is understood because they may fail to understand what they are really doing and the consequences of their actions. However, if they murder multiple people, there is no possibility that they are unaware of what they are doing. If they are then aware of the crimes they are commiting, they should be punished as if they were a normal person.

    Based on those claims, I agree with the ruling but not the justification. The Atkins most likely realized the degree of crime he was committing and then panicked in the situation. However, I disagree with the statement death is not a suitable punishment for a mentally retarded criminal. If a criminal goes on a mass murder spree and presents a genuine threat to innocent people, they should receive the death penalty.

  23. If I was justice, I would find this case relatively difficult. Mostly because Atkins was classified as ” Mildly” Mentally retarded. It would be hard to make a verdict because this case would be a different variable that comes up.
    ” To the extent there is serious disagreement about the execution of mentally retarded offenders, it is in determining which offenders are in fact retarded. In this case, for instance, the Commonwealth of Virginia disputes that Atkins suffers from mental retardation. Not all people who claim to be mentally retarded will be so impaired as to fall within the range of mentally retarded offenders about whom there is a national consensus. ”
    I do agree with Justice Steven’s consensus because Mentally disabled people have certain traits that hold them back from understanding the consequences of their actions. If they were to have time in solitary confinement, were they can gradually learn from their mistakes, it would be easier for both of the parties to take care of the crime.

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