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Atkins v. Virginia

Scott Caron

ProfessorScott Caron

CaseCast "What you need to know"

CaseCast –  "What you need to know"

Atkins v. Virginia

Citation. 536 U.S 304 (2002)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Atkins contention was that the execution of a mentally retarded criminal is a cruel and unusual punishment which contravenes the Eighth Amendment. He made this contention when he was sentenced to death for committing murder. Atkins (D) had an IQ 0f 59 at the time of his conviction.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Under the Eighth Amendment, the capital punishment of a mentally retarded convict is cruel and unusual.


Atkins Daryl (D) was sentenced to death for shooting a patron of an automated teller machine and for robbery, after he was found guilty of abduction, capital murder and armed robbery. A verdict of “mildly mentally retarded” pertaining to the health of Atkins (D), was given by a forensic psychologist. This verdict of the psychologist was based on the interview he had with Atkins (D) and with others who knew him, review of school and court records of other crimes and a standard intelligence test which showed that Atkins (D) had a full scale IQ of 59. Atkins (D) however appealed against the ruling of the trial court on the ground that sentencing a mentally retarded criminal to death was a cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.


Under the Eighth Amendment, is the capital punishment of a mentally retarded convict cruel and unusual?


(Stevens, J.) Yes. Under the Eighth Amendment, the capital punishment of a mentally retarded convict is cruel and unusual. Mentally retarded persons should be tried and punished when they commit crimes once they meet the law’s requirement. Mentally retarded persons do not act with the level of moral culpability that characterizes the most serious adult criminal conduct because of their disabilities in the areas of reasoning, control of impulses and judgment. Hence, the enactment of the federal government which exempts the mentally retarded from execution has provided a strong evidence in which the society view the mentally retarded offenders as less culpable than the average criminal. The mentally retarded person’s disposition often portrays that they lack remorse for their crimes and they are also poor witnesses because they are not capable of assisting their counsel. Reversed and remanded.


(Scalia, J) the decision taken in this case as no ground in the Eighth Amendment’s text or history, no ground in contemporary attitudes towards the death penalty, relies on nothing more than the personal preferences of the members of today’s majority and the Court’s death-is-different jurisprudence is taken to the extreme. So, not making use of the death penalty belongs to the legislatures and abolishing it one small increment at a time should not be sought by this Court.


the Supreme Court in Atkins observed that the execution of mentally retarded criminals in the states that permitted it was not common and also noted that the practice of such executions “has become truly unusual” and developing a “national consensus” against it was fair.

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