Brief for The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, The Arc of the United States, The National Disability Rights Network, Disability Rights Florida, and The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law as Amicus Curiae
Question Presented: Whether the Florida scheme for identifying mentally retarded defendants in capital cases violates Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002). Summary of Argument: In Atkins, this Court concluded that a national consensus had developed against the execution of persons with mental retardation and that such executions violated the Eighth Amendment. The Court also stated that the national consensus suggests that some characteristics of mental retardation, such as disabilities in the areas of reasoning, judgment, and control of impulses, undermine the procedural protections of our capital punishment jurisprudence and can jeopardize the reliability and fairness of capital proceedings against defendants with mental retardation. Although the Atkins Court left to the states the task of determining whether a defendant has mental retardation, the Court noted its approval of state statutory definitions that generally conform to the clinical definitions of professional mental disability organizations, such as the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) (formerly the American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR)) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA). In the eleven years since Atkins was decided, states have taken differing approaches to fulfilling this mandate. Many of these states have followed Atkins’ guidance and have implemented tests that, consistent with the definitions used by recognized mental disability organizations, consider assessments of both an individual’s intellectual functioning (i.e., IQ tests), including the standard margin of error or specific facts about the administration and scoring of the test, and an individual’s conceptual, social and practical skills. Florida courts, however, have adopted a test that individuals who have a raw IQ score above 70 do not have mental retardation, without consideration of the standard margin of error or factors including cognitive and behavioral impairments that are encompassed in the definitions of mental disability professionals. In doing so, Florida has erected a test with no foundation in scientifically recognized definitions that prevents an accurate assessment of whether a defendant has mental retardation and allows for the execution of individuals with mental retardation who would not be executed in states that have followed Atkins’ guidance. This, the ABA asserts, is an arbitrary and capricious application of the death penalty that denies the constitutional protection mandated by Atkins for the full range of defendants with mental retardation.
April Land, James W. Ellis, Ann M. Delpha, Carol M. Suzuki & Steven K. Homer,
Brief for The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, The Arc of the United States, The National Disability Rights Network, Disability Rights Florida, and The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law as Amicus Curiae,
Available at: https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/law_facultyscholarship/446