Intellectual Disability: A Digest of Complex Concepts in Atkins Proceedings

In 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Atkins v. Virginia,1 which categorically banned the death penalty for defendants who have intellectual disability.2 Since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Atkins, hundreds of capital defendants’ cases have come before state and federal courts for factual determination of the presence of this disability. A review of these cases demonstrates that courts, attorneys, law enforcement, and forensic experts have limited understanding of the scientific fundamentals of a diagnosis of intellectual disability.