Type: Evaluation Essays
Sample donated: Jeannette Massey
Last updated: July 14, 2019
TheSupreme Court is the highest law of the land, especially when it came to thiscase. This case ultimately became a success for Penry who was not executed forhis crime. It was also a success for the American Psychological Association fortheir amicus brief that was used in the decision of the court. Whileboth the majority and minority opinions in the Supreme Court decision weredifferent, both used the amicus brief to strengthen their argument. Penry inhis objection stated that his death sentence was a violation of the Eighth Amendmentbecause he was mentally disabled. While all prior courts rejected the claim,the Supreme Court looked further into the claim and used the AmericanPsychological Association’s amicus brief for their argument. Five Justicesconcurred in the majority opinion given by Justice O’Connor who used the APA’sbrief as a counter- argument. While the brief stated that they opposed theexecution of intellectually disabled people because of impairments in bothcognitive and behavioral situations, the majority ruled that some have thecapacity to understand the guilt of their crime (Penry v.
Lynaugh,1989). Assuch, they would be able to be sentenced to capital punishment if deemed by thejury. It was concluded that not all intellectually disabled people are the samein their impairments and therefore would not violate the Eighth Amendment’sCruel and Unusual Punishment clause.
The minority opinion used the amicus briefto strengthen their argument that intellectually disabled people should not beexecuted as it violates the Eighth Amendment. The minority opinion was writtenby Justices Brennan and Marshall who agreed that the question Justice O’Connorposed as to whether is it always unconstitutional for an intellectuallydisabled person to be executed was a necessary question, but disagreed on heranswer. They rebutted and stated if the intellectually disabled were to betreated as one group, it would bring not only false stereotyping, butdiscrimination to those people (Penry v. Lynaugh,1989).
As such, this would bea violation of the Eighth Amendment clause because all people have the right toindividualization when receiving their sentences because they areintellectually disabled. This would inevitably show that people with anintellectual disability do not have the same level of guilt as others and beable to sentence them appropriately. JusticeO’Connor wrote the majority opinion in this case that answers the two questionsthe court had to decide: should the jury have considered the mitigatingevidence provided by Penry and is it cruel and unusual punishment to chargePenry with capital punishment. While the amicus brief was not used in the decisionof the jury, it still plays an integral role in the decision of the court. Inthe state courts the jury had to answer 1) if Penry knew what he did was wrong;2) whether he would commit crimes that would threaten society; and 3) was themurder unreasonable in response to the provocation (Penry v. Lynaugh,1989).However, the jury was not told that they could use the mitigating evidenceprovided by Penry such as such his intellectual disability and abuse hereceived as part of his sentencing.
As such, Penry petitioned that the court inTexas failed to tell the jury to take into consideration all evidence providedto them. As such, the Court concluded the jury was never instructed that itcould consider mitigating evidence with a reasoned moral response when imposinga sentence (Penry v. Lynaugh,1989).
The minority opinion also agreed with themajority that the jury should have considered the mitigating evidence providedby Penry prior to sentencing him.TheAmerican Psychological Association along with other associations such as theAmerican Association on Mental Retardation filed a brief in favor of Penry.They argued that no intellectually disabled person should be executed under thebasis of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (APA, 1989). They argued thatthe disabilities related to intellectual disability are directly correlated toa criminal responsibility and the punishment for the criminal activity. Theystated that if a person is intellectually disabled they are unable to not onlyunderstand their actions, but control their actions because they do not havethe cognitive or behavior development that should have occurred during theirdevelopment (APA, 1989). People with intellectual disabilities have a reducedability to cope and function in the world because they have severe impairmentsin judgment making, logical reasoning, strategic thinking, and control of theirimpulsivity. This relates to the level of their ability to conform to the law’srequirements and to the degree of the defendant’s blame which is an integralpart of the insanity defense.
The APA also argued that people who are intellectuallydisabled do not have the level of guilt needed to fulfill the Eighth Amendment’Cruel and Unusual Punishment clause appropriately and therefore, it should beunconstitutional in those cases. The level of guilt and moral culpability arethe key factors in determining death penalty for a person (APA, 1989). It alsolooks at the person’s state of mind at the time of the crime, which is anothercomponent of the insanity defense.
The highest level of intellectual disabilitystill has deficiencies in cognitive, behavioral, and moral judgement andreasoning. As such, a person with an impairment in either category does notcomprehend the consequences against them, should be warranted a less severepenalty than those who have such capabilities. They also looked at the conceptof mental age in relation to the severity of the person’s mental disability. Itis not only used to look at the person’s development, but also to see theperson’s level of reasoning. As such, a minimal level of both cognitive, moral,and behavioral development will satisfy the Eighth Amendment’s clause of Crueland Unusual Punishment in capital cases involving a mental disabled person asit does not serve a penal purpose (APA, 1989).
In1989, The Supreme Court decided the Penry v. Lynaugh case. Penry, thepetitioner, was convicted of rape and murder and was sentenced to death.
It wasfound that Penry, in a competency evaluation, was mentally retarded, knowntoday as intellectually disabled, with an IQ of 54 (Penry v. Lynaugh,1989). DespitePenry’s IQ, the jury found that Penry was competent to proceed and furthersentenced him to death. Although there was also an insanity plea, the juryrejected the defense and again sentenced him to death. As such, the case wentto the Supreme Court with two questions: should the jury consider mitigatingevidence presented and is it the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause under the EighthAmendment to execute an intellectually disabled person? The American PsychologicalAssociation filed an amicus brief (friend of the court) in favor of Penry.