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Tennessee high court allows execution of people with late-onset mental retardation

[JURIST] The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled [PDF text] Wednesday that the state can execute a defendant who begins to exhibit symptoms comparable with mental retardation after the age of 18. Under Tennessee's criminal code [Sec. 39-13-203 text], mental retardation is defined as a condition where an individual scores 70 or below on an IQ test, demonstrates "deficits in adaptive behavior," and has symptoms first manifest during the "developmental period, or by eighteen years of age." The court ruled that Danny Strode, who was sentenced to death for a beating death during an aggravated robbery, does not suffer from mental retardation because he scored 69 on an IQ test at age 23.

In 2002, the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled in Atkins v. Virginia [text] that the execution of criminals afflicted with mental retardation violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of "cruel and unusual" punishment. The US Supreme Court has not yet ruled on whether the execution of individuals afflicted with equivalent symptoms that do not technically qualify as "mental retardation" also violates the Eighth Amendment. The American Psychological Association [official website] defines mental retardation in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders [DSM-IV-TR backgrounder] as as a childhood-onset condition. AP has more.

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