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Indiana Supreme Court rules that defendants can not be required to show their mental retardation by clear and convincing evidence in death penalty cases, and evidence can include tests and manifestations that occurred after the age of 21.

In Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), the United States Supreme Court ruled that a death penalty cannot be assigned to criminal defendants who are mentally retarded, but did not define mental retardation nor establish the procedures to be used in making this determination. The Indiana Supreme Court answered a number of related questions in applying Indiana's definition of a "mentally retarded individual" as being "an individual who, before becoming twenty-two years of age, manifests: (1) significantly subaverage intellectual functioning; and (2) substantial impairment of adaptive behavior."

For example, the court ruled that placing the burden on defendants to prove by clear and convincing evidence that they are mentally retarded is not permissible. The court noted that it is unconstitutional to require a defendant to prove his incompetence to stand trial by clear and convincing evidence.

Because mentally retarded defendants may be less able to give meaningful assistance to their counsel, are typically poor witnesses, and their demeanor may create an unwarranted impression of lack of remorse for their crimes, the court determined that requiring defendants to establish mental retardation by clear and convincing evidence would result in the execution of some persons who are mentally retarded and outweighs the state's interest in seeking justice.

Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Tennessee have reached a similar conclusion. However, Arizona, Colorado, and Florida require defendants to show mental retardation by clear and convincing evidence, while Georgia requires defendants to demonstrate mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt.

The court also determined IQ tests are not conclusive evidence of intellectual functioning and that a court may consider other evidence of mental capacity. Thus, a defendant's scores on academic achievement tests can be considered notwithstanding testimony that they may vary as much as fifteen to twenty-five points from a person's true IQ.

The Indiana Supreme Court also permitted the consideration of evidence of intellectual functioning after reaching the age of twenty-two, including a defendant's ability to fill out applications for employment and hold a number of jobs over the years. IQ tests given after the defendant turned twenty-two could also be weighed because otherwise a defendant older than twenty-two who had never been tested could never be found mentally retarded based on IQ testing. Although such evidence may be of less significance, the court concluded it was still relevant.

The Indiana high court also addressed the adaptive behavior prong of the mental retardation test. A plurality of the court found that Atkins required at least general conformity with definitions accepted by those with expertise in the field, such as definitions provided by the American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR) or the DSM-IV.

Although the Indiana statutory definition is somewhat different from that provided by the DSM-IV, the court found it very similar to the AAMR definition of adaptive functioning and thus within the range of permissible standards. The court found that the trial court used an adaptive behavior standard that was too restrictive in that it embraced only the bottom 10-25% of those individuals who would be found to have a substantial impairment of adaptive behavior under clinical standards.

The court rejected arguments that a defendant's sentence should be reduced because of limited mental capabilities that do not reach mental retardation or because the defendant suffered from a mental illness at the time of the crime. The court ruled that the death penalty is appropriate for an individual who is able to function and adapt as an adult in society and was able to comprehend the wrongfulness of his actions.

A dissenting opinion argued that IQ test scores obtained after a defendant turns twenty-two are irrelevant, that evidence of adaptive behavior must be limited to how well a person deals with everyday life demands before the person reaches the age of twenty-two, and that the DSM-IV definition of impairment of adaptive functioning should be the guiding test. Pruitt v. State, 834 N.E.2d 90 (Ind. 2005).
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Title Annotation:Indiana
Publication:Developments in Mental Health Law
Date:Jul 1, 2006
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