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Atkins v. Virginia

Supreme Court of the United States

February 20, 2002, Argued ; June 20, 2002, Decided

No. 00-8452

Opinion

 [**2244]  [***341]  [*306]    JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

 Those mentally retarded persons who meet the law's requirements for criminal responsibility should be tried and punished when they commit crimes. Because of their disabilities in areas of reasoning, judgment, and control of their impulses, however, they do not act with the level of moral culpability that characterizes the most serious adult criminal conduct. Moreover, their impairments can jeopardize the  [*307]  reliability and fairness of capital proceedings against mentally retarded defendants. Presumably for these reasons, in the 13 years since we decided Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302, 106 L. Ed. 2d 256, 109 S. Ct. 2934 (1989), the American public, legislators, scholars, and judges have deliberated over the question whether the death penalty should ever be imposed [****7]  on a mentally retarded criminal. The consensus reflected in those deliberations informs our answer to the question presented by this case: whether such executions are "cruel and unusual punishments" prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the Federal Constitution.

Petitioner, Daryl Renard Atkins, was convicted of abduction, armed robbery, and capital murder, and sentenced to death. At approximately midnight on August 16, 1996, Atkins and William Jones, armed with a semiautomatic handgun, abducted Eric Nesbitt, robbed him of the money on his person, drove him to an automated teller machine in his pickup truck where cameras recorded their withdrawal of additional cash, then took him to an isolated location where he was shot eight times and killed.

 Jones and Atkins both testified in the guilt phase of Atkins' trial. 1 Each confirmed most of the details in the other's account of the incident, with the important exception that each stated that the other had actually shot and killed Nesbitt. Jones' testimony,  [***342]  which was both more coherent and credible than Atkins', was obviously credited by the jury and was  [**2245]  sufficient to establish Atkins' guilt. 2 At the penalty  [*308]  phase of the trial,  [****8]  the State introduced victim impact evidence and proved two aggravating circumstances: future dangerousness and "vileness of the offense." To prove future dangerousness, the State relied on Atkins' prior felony convictions as well as the testimony of four victims of earlier robberies and assaults. To prove the second aggravator, the prosecution relied upon the trial record, including pictures of the deceased's body and the autopsy report.

In the penalty phase, the defense relied on one witness, Dr. Evan [****9]  Nelson, a forensic psychologist who had evaluated Atkins before trial and concluded that he was "mildly mentally retarded." 3 [****10]  His conclusion was based on interviews with people who knew Atkins, 4 a review of school and court  [*309]  records, and the administration of a standard intelligence test which indicated that Atkins had a full scale IQ of 59. 5 

opinion

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536 U.S. 304 *; 122 S. Ct. 2242 **; 153 L. Ed. 2d 335 ***; 2002 U.S. LEXIS 4648 ****; 70 U.S.L.W. 4585; 2002 Cal. Daily Op. Service 5439; 2002 Daily Journal DAR 6937; 15 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 397

DARYL RENARD ATKINS, PETITIONER v. VIRGINIA

Subsequent History: On remand at, Remanded by Atkins v. Commonwealth, 266 Va. 73, 581 S.E.2d 514, 2003 Va. LEXIS 71 (2003)

Prior History: ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF VIRGINIA.

Atkins v. Commonwealth, 260 Va. 375, 534 S.E.2d 312, 2000 Va. LEXIS 111 (2000)

Disposition: Reversed and remanded.

CORE TERMS

retarded, sentencing, offenders, murder, culpability, plurality, cruel, decency, deterrence, retribution, evolving, impaired, diminished, exemption, mitigating, idiots, religious, insanity, reliable, robbery, intelligence, categorical, sentiments, weighed, mildly, Amici, adult, rape

Constitutional Law, Bill of Rights, Fundamental Rights, Cruel & Unusual Punishment, Criminal Law & Procedure, Sentencing, Proportionality, Capital Punishment, Intellectual Disabilities, General Overview

Constitutional Law, Bill of Rights, Fundamental Rights, Cruel & Unusual Punishment, Criminal Law & Procedure, Sentencing, Proportionality, Capital Punishment, Intellectual Disabilities, General Overview