Retarded People Shouldn't Get The Death Penalty

1496 words - 6 pages

In the United States there are about 3,700 people on death row. There are some arguments about how many are mentally retarded, but the number is estimated at about one-fourth to one-third ( 1). Being mentally retarded does not mean being insane or having brain damage. Mental retardation is a lifelong condition of impaired or incomplete mental development. Mentally retarded people have an IQ below 70 while an average person has an IQ of 100. These people are like small children in the body of an adult, and the legal system executes them for crimes that they can't comprehend. This is cruel and unusual punishment and violates the Eighth Amendment to the ...view middle of the document...

Yet juries and judges have given the death penalty to many people who have no idea what is going on around them. John Paul Penry had been convicted of murder and had his appeal brought to the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision the Supreme Court ruled that the jury had not been allowed to fully consider his mental impairments and concluded that there was insignificant evidence that the national "standard of decency" had evolved far enough to reject such executions (Catania 1). Penry was abused as a child, had organic brain damage, and believed in Santa Clause as an adult. When he was twenty-two he was charged with raping and murdering Pamela Carpenter in Texas and at that time he had the mental capacity of a seven year old and he still did after many years in jail and at the time of the appeal (Fellner 2).Many prosecutors believe that the mental capabilities of the retarded vary and that they have the intelligence to plan and carry out a murder (Polston 1). Some may be more slowwitted than others, but all are lacking in understanding. They can frequently know the difference between right and wrong, but often cannot understand and process the information, communicate, and learn from their experiences. The supporters of the death penalty for the mentally retarded claim it takes a high degree of mental retardation before that person reaches the point where they are not aware of the consequences of their actions (Polston 1). A person with an IQ of 60 may have no idea of consequences, and that an IQ of 60 is not a high degree of mentally retardation. Such a person is not extremely retarded, but they can be unaware of the consequences for their actions.Defenders of the death penalty think that being stupid should not excuse one from a penalty for what they did (Wilson 1). The reason is that many dimwitted persons may not be able to participate in their own defense. They may be suggestible, ready to agree to a police officer's misleading claim they broke the law, or be unable to tell their attorney what they need to know in order to represent themselves effectively. Eddie Mitchell. a retarded man on death row in Louisiana, waived all his rights during his interrogation. But when an attorney asked him if he had understood what "waiving his rights" meant, Mitchell raised his right hand and waved ( 2). Many cases happen like Mitchell's, where a prosecutor or police officer can convince a retarded person that they have committed a crime and suddenly they have the guilty person they need.Most of the American population favor the death penalty, but about 70 percent don't support killing mentally retarded people (Catania 2). An increasing number of states recognized that the execution of the mentally retarded is incompatible with the standards of a civilized society regardless of what procedures are used ( 1). In 1989, the Supreme Court in the Penry appeal ruled that such executions may be unacceptable, but could not...

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