Does Atkins Make A Difference In Non-Capital Cases?

William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal (2014)

Full Citation

Does Atkins Make A Difference In Non-Capital Cases?, 23 Wm. & Mary Bill Rts. J. 431, 465 (2014)


Paul Marcus


William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal


The holding in Atkins v. Virginia is clear. The execution of [intellectually disabled people] … is unconstitutional. One other feature of the Atkins decision is also certain; the reason the 8th Amendment is violated by the use of the death penalty with such convicted defendants. That is because defendants with intellectual disabilities are to be viewed as less culpable than other defendants.

In this article, I look at the limited impact the Atkins rationale and its holding have had in non-capital cases. I examine three areas: confessions (both voluntariness determinations, and understanding of Miranda warnings), the ability of those with intellectual disabilities to assist their lawyers in making plea decisions or in creating a defense to criminal prosecutions, and sentencing. These three areas are of genuine significance because they focus on an accused’s understanding of the process and also the degree of culpability for the offense.