Atkins and Jones abducted,
robbed, and killed a guy. They were caught and charged with first-degree
Atkins was found guilty of first-degree
murder and sentenced to death. He
Atkins argued that because
he was mentally retarded, executing him would amount to cruel and unusual
punishment in violation of the 8th Amendment.
The Appellate court upheld the
sentence. Atkins appealed.
The Virginia Supreme Court
upheld the sentence. Atkins appealed.
The US Supreme Court overturned
The US Supreme Court found
that the execution of mentally handicapped individuals violated the 8th
Amendment's prohibition of cruel and
The Court noted that unlike
other provisions of the Constitution, the Eighth Amendment should be
interpreted in light of the "evolving standards of decency that mark
the progress of a maturing society."
The Court noted that a
national consensus that the mentally retarded should not be executed had
The Court found that "relationship
between mental retardation and the penological purposes served by the
death penalty" justifies a conclusion that executing the mentally
retarded is cruel and unusual punishment that the 8th
Amendment should forbid.
Basically, unless it can be
shown that executing the mentally retarded promotes the goals of
retribution and deterrence, doing so is nothing more than
"purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering,"
making the death penalty cruel and unusual in those cases.
The Court noted that people
with mental disabilities have difficulty communicating and can't help
with their defense as much. And they especially have problems
communicating feelings of remorse to a jury, which could result in
The Court left it up to the
States to determine exactly how mentally handicapped a person had to be
in order to disallow the death penalty.
Btw, a jury in Virginia then
decided that Atkins was intelligent enough to be executed on the basis
that the constant contact he had with his lawyers had intellectually
stimulated him and raised his IQ above 70, making him competent to be put
to death under Virginia law.