Death Penalty for the Mentally Retarded

On March 26th , The U. S Supreme Court announced that it would take into consideration the increasing national consensus against capital punishment for mentally retarded killers. The case will be argued next fall, and the Supreme Court will decided whether such punishment for mentally retarded killers is “cruel and unconstitutional” in violation of the Eight Amendment. The court will assess whether execution of the mentally retarded violates American standards of decency. This case, could produce the court’s most important ruling on the death penalty in years, according to Linda Greenhouse (1).

Since the Supreme Court last considered this question, twelve years ago, 11 states have rejected the death penalty for retarded killers. When taking into account the states without capital punishment, half the states do not execute mentally retarded killers.

According to Linda Greenhouse (1), currently, 10% of the death row inmates have an IQ of less than 70, which deems them mentally retarded. In the fall, to decide the issue, the Supreme Court, will hear an appeal by a death row inmate in NC, Ernest P. McCarver, whose IQ is 67. McCarver was issued a stay, hours before his execution. He was sentenced to death, after the 1987 theft and murder of a coworker in Concord, NC. Mr. McCarver, who was 26 at the time of the murder, was found to function intellectually as a 10-12 year old.

The death penalty, itself, has been an issue of many heated debates in this country.

The death penalty, as it applies to mentally retarded killers, is even more complex. Those who are for the death penalty of the mentally retarded, argue that during a trial, an attempt is made to see whether the mentally retarded killer is capable of determining right from wrong. If the person is capable of such differentiation, then they can be held fully accountable for their actions. Those who oppose the death penalty of the mentally retarded, do not argue that they should not be held accountable for their crimes, or severely punished. What they contend is that the mentally retarded should not be considered so liable that they deserve the ultimate punishment, which is supposed to be reserved for the criminals who commit the most heinous crimes.

Linda Greenhouse, does not state an opinion of her view of this controversial issue. In her article, she only presents the issue in question.

When comparing the homicide rates in states with the death penalty, to those where the death penalty is banned, it is pretty clear, that the threat of death penalty does not deter crime. If one takes a look at statistics from the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington DC, this becomes rather obvious. Does execution of the mentally retarded, send messages to the rest of mentally retarded population, that will prevent them from committing the same crime? In my opinion, that is simply ridiculous. I believe that the death penalty is unconstitutional, does not deter crime and is morally unjustifiable. It is cruel and unusual punishment, that in no way benefits our society. Death penalty is the same as premeditated murder, yet we find premeditated murder immoral. The execution of people, functioning on intellectual levels of 7 and 8 year olds, is simply ludicrous. Children know right from wrong, yet we do not execute children below the age of 16.

Thus, it is definitely time for the Supreme Court to start paying attention to this issue. Maybe they will finally agree with a majority of the American population, which despite its approval of the death penalty, opposes capital punishment of the mentally retarded.

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