Death Penalty and Intellectual Disabilities

The death penalty has been a permissible form of punishment for certain crimes in the United States throughout the nation's history, with the first recorded case occurring in 1608. The Supreme Court has held on numerous occasions that state proscription of the death penalty is not a violation of the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The court has also held, however, that the Eighth Amendment does impose limitations on when and how states may use the death penalty. Following the 1972 case of Furman v. Georgia, use of the death penalty was temporarily suspended for what the Court saw as the lack of a rational standard for its use. Gregg v. Georgia, decided in 1976, sought to achieve a constitutional death penalty by imposing procedural restrictions on its use. Subsequent Supreme Court cases imposed further requirements, including the requirement that a death row inmate be deemed intellectually competent by a psychologist to determine the validity of a death penalty sentence. This intellectual competence requirement has been the subject of recent litigation regarding IQ cutoffs for death row inmates.


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