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John Couey and Mental Retardation


The Last Psychiatrist has this short post on the death sentence for John Couey, the man convicted of kidnapping and killing Jessica Lunsford. This post follows up on a prior post from the Last Psychiatrist which aptly points out the many problems inherent in the Atkins v. Virgina case which prohibited the execution of the mentally retarded. Surely the execution of the mentally retarded is reprehensible; but the formulaic declaration that Atkins set forth is problematic and troubling; problematic for the reasons the Last Psychiatrist states and troubling because it removed an important moral question from the hands of the People, which are arguably in a better position to weigh the individual circumstances of each case.

Update: As the commentators correctly suggest, historically the prohibition of the death penalty against the mentally retarded was against the profoundly mentally retarded -- those akin to Blackstone's "wild beast" whose intellect was so impaired as to render them as "infants". See generally, Steven K. Erickson, Minding Moral Responsibility


Why is the execution of the mentally retarded "reprehensible"? Perhaps, the execution of the profoundly mentally retarded is "reprehensible".

The common law prohibited the execution of "idiots," and that probably covered the severely and profoundly retarded. See Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302, 332-333 (1989).

As the Last Psychiatrist notes, people in these categories rarely, if ever, commit capital murder, so it was academic. Atkins was all about the moderately and mildly retarded.

I would say "allegedly" retarded when it comes to Atkins, since, as the Last Psychiatrist implies, his "mental retardation" defense seems problematic, given the facts and circumstances of his awful crime.

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