Excluding Intellectually Disabled Offenders from Execution

The Continuing Journey to Implement Atkins

by Peggy M. Tobolowsky

Tags: Death Penalty/Capital Punishment, Legal Issues, Policy

Table of Contents (PDF)

274 pp  $33.00

ISBN 978-1-61163-563-8
eISBN 978-1-5310-0322-7

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In 2002, in Atkins v. Virginia, the United States Supreme Court concluded that the execution of intellectually disabled offenders is cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. The Court's Atkins ruling not only applied to future capital punishment prosecutions, but also permitted previously death-sentenced state and federal offenders to seek to establish their intellectual disability and resulting ineligibility for execution. Moreover, because of the constitutional nature of the Atkins ruling, state death-sentenced offenders could generally file Atkins claims for collateral relief in both state and federal courts.

Since Atkins, almost 600 Atkins claims have been filed in state and federal courts. In 2014, in Hall v. Florida, the Court confirmed the fundamental principles of its Atkins decision and found Florida's implementation of Atkins unconstitutional. This book examines the state and federal legislative and judicial implementation of Atkins prior to Hall and Hall's impact on the future implementation of Atkins. It catalogs the outcomes of Atkins claims filed prior to Hall and describes illustrative successful and unsuccessful Atkins claims. The book also discusses specific Atkins implementation issues that merit future Court consideration in the continuing effort to implement Atkins and exclude intellectually disabled offenders from execution.

"Tobolowsky's journey, which began looking at the literature surrounding the Atkin's claims, has ultimately put forth great evidence supporting the end of capital punishment." — Sarah Britto, Criminal Justice Review 40(4)

"Tobolowsky describes the ongoing struggle to implement Atkins, prospectively and retroactively…Tobolowsky is particularly effective in her application of the risk of 'erroneous execution standard' derived from Atkins and Hall, in order to criticize newer questionable death penalty practices like Texas' Briseno adaptive functioning factors, the 'Flynn' and 'practice' effects, Georgia's high standard of proof of beyond the reasonable doubt for the exemption, and the AEDPA restrictions on habeas challenges." Leona D. Jochnowitz, Criminal Law Bulletin

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