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Case Trial: Atkins vs. Virginia

Parties: Daryl Renard Atkins, who initiated legal action in the court, and the United States government that prosecuted the defendant.

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Facts: The discussed case is a criminal procedure involving cruel and unusual punishment — death penalty. Daryl Renard Atkins was convicted in several serious illegal actions, such as armed robbery, abduction, and a murder. During the penalty stage of the case trial, the defense team relied on a forensic psychologist who claimed that Atkins had mental health problems. Even though the jury decided that Atkins should receive death punishment, the Virginia Supreme Court organized another hearing during which they used the psychologist’s testimonies again. The State disproved the defendant’s intelligence, and the jury sentenced Atkins to death for the second time.

Issues: Should the Eighth Amendment protect mentally disabled criminals from death penalty?

Holding: As a result of the case, the United States Supreme Court “prohibited the execution of defendants with mental retardation and required that professional standards be applied in the diagnosis of mental retardation in capital cases” (Everington and Olley 2). Therefore, sentencing mentally disabled people to death is a cruel punishment that the Eighth Amendment has to forbid.

Reasoning: Majority Reasoning (Justice Kinser)

Rule: The Eighth Amendment on the Constitution of the United States presents that “excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted” (Everington and Olley 3).

  • This rule prevents the government from imposing harsh penalties on the defendants as a penalty for conducting a crime or as a price for prison release.
  • The statement ensures constitutional protection for the vulnerable population of mentally disabled and psychologically unstable individuals (Everington and Olley 2).

Application: According to the rule that applies to Atkins’s case, the defendant wins based on the facts and the evidence provided during the case trial. Special conditions should be applied to people who suffer from severe mental issues, have difficulties communicating information, and may have challenges adapting to specific behaviors.

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Other Opinions

Concurring (jury): The board believed that Deryl Renard Atkins was intelligent and psychologically stable enough to be sentenced to death since he had continual contact with the lawyers who raised his IQ and provided specific intellectual stimulation.

Dissenting (Prentis Smiley): The judge revised Atkins’s case in 2008 and analyzed the evidence provided by the defense team and the prosecutors. Smiley concluded that the prosecution misconduct occurred during the initial trial. Nevertheless, he was not able to commute the sentence of Atkins.

Analysis

The case of Atkins was an essential event in the history of the United States and a “significant accomplishment for the field of mental retardation” (Everington and Olley 2). It is believed that this case encouraged professionals to research mental problems and contributed to the advancement of contemporary practices and policies. Even though the majority opinion caused an emergence of several positive changes, I agree with the concurring opinion that Atkins should have been sentenced to death. Mental health, whether it is in good condition or not, should not justify dangerous criminal activities.

Discussion

I selected this case because the death penalty topic has always been challenging and interesting for me. There are many distinct opinions about it, and all of them have strong arguments. I believe that the court decided to hear this particular case because it had the potential to be beneficial for society and included several important issues, such as mental illnesses, murders, and death sentences.

Work Cited

Everington, Caroline, and J. Gregory Olley. “Implications of Atkins v. Virginia: Issues in Defining and Diagnosing Mental Retardation.” Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice, vol. 8, no. 1, 2008, pp. 1-23.

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