In the United States there are about 3,700 people on death row. There are some arguments about how many are mentally retarded, but the number is estimated at about one-fourth to one-third (www.aclu.org/DeathPenalty/... 1). Being mentally retarded does not mean being insane or having brain damage. Mental retardation is a lifelong condition of impaired or incomplete mental development. Mentally retarded people have an IQ below 70 while an average person has an IQ of 100. These people are like small children in the body of an adult, and the legal system executes them for crimes that they can't comprehend. This is cruel and unusual punishment and violates the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. Mentally retarded people should not be given the death penalty because of their diminished capacity to understand.
Mentally retarded people are limited in their ability to learn from their experiences, to control their impulses, or to think in long-range terms (Fellner 2).
Children out grow these attitudes, but those that are retarded cannot. They can't reason or develop skills that they need to live in this world. A retarded person is simply not the same as a regular adult, because they have grievous difficulties with communication, language, logic, learning, foresight, strategic thinking, planning, and understanding consequences (Fellner 1). To be able to plead mental retardation to a judge, the person must have three things; their IQ must be 70 or lower, "they must have a significant limitation in adaptive functioning in areas
such as communication, self-care, academics, and self direction", and both of these earlier conditions must have been evident before the age of 18 (www.aclu.org/DeathPenalty/... 1). These are what the judge has to consider before sentencing.
Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, an estimated 35 mentally retarded people have been executed (Fellner 1) The death penalty is suppose to be reserved for the most blameworthy offenders based careful consideration of their background, character, motivation, and circumstances of their crimes (Fellner 1). Yet juries and judges have given the death penalty to many people who have no idea what is going on around them. John Paul Penry had been convicted of murder and had his appeal brought to the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision the Supreme Court ruled that the jury had not been allowed to fully consider his mental impairments and concluded that there was insignificant evidence that the national "standard of decency" had evolved far enough to reject such executions (Catania 1). Penry was abused as a child, had organic brain damage, and believed in Santa Clause as an adult. When he was twenty-two he was charged with raping and murdering Pamela Carpenter in Texas and at that time he had the mental capacity of a seven year old and he still did after many years in jail and at the time of the appeal (Fellner 2).
Many prosecutors believe that the mental capabilities of the retarded vary and that they have the intelligence to plan and carry out a murder (Polston 1). Some may be more slowwitted than others, but all are lacking in understanding. They can frequently know the difference between right and wrong, but often cannot understand and process the information, communicate, and learn from their experiences. The supporters of the death penalty for the mentally retarded claim it takes a high degree of mental retardation before that person reaches the point where they are not aware of the consequences of their actions (Polston 1). A person with an IQ of 60 may have no idea of consequences, and that an IQ of 60 is not a high degree of mentally retardation. Such a person is not extremely retarded, but they can be unaware of the consequences for their actions.
Defenders of the death penalty think that being stupid should not excuse one from a penalty for what they did (Wilson 1). The reason is that many dimwitted persons may not be able to participate in their own defense. They may be suggestible, ready to agree to a police officer's misleading claim they broke the law, or be unable to tell their attorney what they need to know in order to represent themselves effectively. Eddie Mitchell. a retarded man on death row in Louisiana, waived all his rights during his interrogation. But when an attorney asked him if he had understood what "waiving his rights" meant, Mitchell raised his right hand and waved (hrw.org/reports... 2). Many cases happen like Mitchell's, where a prosecutor or police officer can convince a retarded person that they have committed a crime and suddenly they have the guilty person they need.
Most of the American population favor the death penalty, but about 70 percent don't support killing mentally retarded people (Catania 2). An increasing number of states recognized that the execution of the mentally retarded is incompatible with the standards of a civilized society regardless of what procedures are used (www.aclu.org/DeathPenalty... 1). In 1989, the Supreme Court in the Penry appeal ruled that such executions may be unacceptable, but could not be considered cruel and unusual punishment because a, "national consensus had not developed against executing those with mental retardation (www.cnn.com/2002/LAW/... 1)." Last year on February 20th, the Supreme Court decided to hear the case of Atkins vs. Virginia, which was about a mentally retarded man on death row. They ruled in a 6-3 decision that the executions of mentally retarded criminals are "cruel and unusual punishment," which violates the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. Two states barred the execution of the mentally slow in 1989, the number has since then grown to eighteen in 2002. The Supreme Court has said that executing mentally slow people is not allowed because "We are not persuaded that the execution of mentally retarded criminals will measurably advance the deterrent or the retributive purpose of the death penalty (www.cnn.com.2002/LAW/06/20/scotus.executions 1)."
Now a defense attorney may request two experts to be allowed to look at their client and if they are recognized as mentally retarded then the judge is obligated to sentence life in prison instead of the death sentence. Some people disagree with this ruling, the most outspoken person is Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. He vetoed a bill banning the execution of mentally retarded killers a couple months before the Supreme Court heard the case. He said that it is unnecessary because the law adequately protects mentally retarded people (Associated Press 1). He also has been quoted in saying that "Texas has never executed a mentally retarded person (Gott 2)." Considering that Texas is the bloodiest state of all this is unlikely.
Even if a retarded person cannot be executed for a violent crime, many people want to know what will happen to them. The simple minded would still be a danger to society and should not be allowed to be free of criminal responsibility. The government doesn't believe that the mentally retarded criminals should be allowed to walk away free. and many people agree. But to be given life imprisonment is good enough to express "societies outrage at horrible crimes"(Fellner 3), to hold the offenders accountable they should be put out of the way where they cannot do further violence to society. In a world where all civilized nations don't even have the death penalty and only two other countries (Iran and China) put retarded people to death, the United States should have more humane and compassionate justice. To inflict the ultimate sanction on a person who may live in a body of 40 year old, but can only comprehend at the level of a 10 year old is cruel, and should be unusual(Lyon 3).
The United States does not execute children and shouldn't execute people with minds like a child. Children grow out of the temper tantrums, and the inability to reason, to learn to control their impulses, and they learn to think in long-range terms. Those that are disabled are forever stuck in that immature mentality. Those that are mentally retarded criminals should be given life imprisonment. They are not trustworthy enough to walk the streets, but they are not capable of the mature mind it takes to commit a murder in cold blood, and so they should not be given the death penalty.