Academic journal article The William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal

Challenges of Conveying Intellectual Disabilities to Judge and Jury

Academic journal article The William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal

Challenges of Conveying Intellectual Disabilities to Judge and Jury

Article excerpt

The issue of defendants with intellectual disabilities (mental retardation)1 and the criminal justice system is not new. The difficulties encountered by individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID) in the criminal justice system was brought to the attention of the forensic and disability communities over thirty years ago.2 Broad issues facing defendants with ID entailed difficulties at every stage of the process, from arrest to parole.3 Defendants with ID served longer sentences and had difficulty attaining parole.4 Issues regarding defendants' understanding of and participation in trial proceedings (competence to stand trial) were raised.5 Lack of identification of the disability by criminal justice personnel and clinicians was cited as a primary concern, and a call was made for more accurate ID diagnosis and better training of criminal justice personnel on the characteristics and needs of defendants with ID.6

The specific issues around capital cases and ID were brought to the attention of the disability and forensic communities 25 years ago in Penry v. Lynaugh.1 While the Court declined to find an exemption from the death penalty for ID, it continued to be a mitigating factor in post-conviction sentencing hearings.8 In the intervening years before Atkins, disability professionals called for more accuracy in forensic evaluations for capital cases involving defendants with ID.9 However, the topic received little attention in the forensic community until Atkins.10

While Atkins gave the necessary procedural protections for defendants with ID,11 it also introduced an area of mental health for which the psychological and legal communities were unprepared. This Article approaches the Atkins hearing primarily through the role of the expert, as the clinical evidence presented is a significant determinant of accurate judge and jury findings. It begins with an overview of the type of evidence needed to prove a claim of ID followed by a discussion of the difficulties in presenting this claim. The issues include (a) court reliance on experts who use diagnostic approaches that are inconsistent with clinical standards for defining and diagnosing ID, (b) legislative and court procedures for Atkins cases that are based on stereotypes and inaccurate information about ID, and (c) unique evaluation challenges posed by the Atkins claimant and the challenges in presenting that claim to judges and juries.

I. Evidence Needed for the Atkins Claim

For the last 50 years, the definition of ID has contained three essential elements: (a) limitations in intellectual functioning; (b) deficits in adaptive skills; and (c) early age of onset.12 While there have been wording changes over the years, the core elements have remained the same.13 Contemporary definitions by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD)14 and the American Psychiatric Association (e.g., Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Fifth Edition (DSM-5)) define deficits in intellectual functioning (or general mental abilities as referred to in the DSM-5)15 similarly and articulate common diagnostic features in their classification manuals. For example, intellectual limitations are defined as a full-scale IQ score that is two standard deviations below the mean on an individualized, psychometrically sound test of intelligence.16 To increase test validity, both associations endorse (a) IQ score adjustments to compensate for out-of-date test norms and (b) avoidance of repeated testing (practice effect).17 For adaptive skill deficits, individuals must display a significant deficit in one of these three areas: conceptual, social, and practical skills.18 Both manuals suggest that reliability is increased by using a combination of informal clinical assessments and standardized assessments of adaptive functioning.19 Developmental onset is documented through interviews and records review.20 There are noted differences between the two definitions, with the DSM-5 placing less emphasis on the IQ ceiling and providing a richer description of key attributes of intellectual and adaptive functioning. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.