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In Atkins v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that criminal defendants with mental retardation could not be sentenced to death or be executed because such an execution would constitute cruel and unusual punishment and therefore was prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. A dozen years later, in Hall v. Florida, the Court has reiterated the constitutional holding of Atkins and has given the states guidance on its implementation. The Court held that Florida could not impose an arbitrary IQ score limitation on the right of capital defendants to seek relief under Atkins. While the holding in Hall was relatively narrow, the Court’s decision has reinforced the importance of protecting individuals with this disability from the death penalty, and provided helpful context for lower courts facing the task of implementing Atkins in individual cases. Cases involving Atkins claims are at the confluence of doctrinal developments under the Eighth Amendment and professional and clinical understanding about mental disability and its diagnosis. This Article seeks to explore what the Hall decision teaches about the current understanding in each of these subjects and steps that can be taken to assure that the rights of defendants who have intellectual disability are fully protected.

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William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal



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disability law



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