The to sentence them appropriately. Justice O’Connor wrote

Supreme Court is the highest law of the land, especially when it came to this
case. This case ultimately became a success for Penry who was not executed for
his crime. It was also a success for the American Psychological Association for
their amicus brief that was used in the decision of the court.

both the majority and minority opinions in the Supreme Court decision were
different, both used the amicus brief to strengthen their argument. Penry in
his objection stated that his death sentence was a violation of the Eighth Amendment
because he was mentally disabled. While all prior courts rejected the claim,
the Supreme Court looked further into the claim and used the American
Psychological Association’s amicus brief for their argument. Five Justices
concurred in the majority opinion given by Justice O’Connor who used the APA’s
brief as a counter- argument. While the brief stated that they opposed the
execution of intellectually disabled people because of impairments in both
cognitive and behavioral situations, the majority ruled that some have the
capacity to understand the guilt of their crime (Penry v. Lynaugh,1989). As
such, they would be able to be sentenced to capital punishment if deemed by the
jury. It was concluded that not all intellectually disabled people are the same
in their impairments and therefore would not violate the Eighth Amendment’s
Cruel and Unusual Punishment clause. The minority opinion used the amicus brief
to strengthen their argument that intellectually disabled people should not be
executed as it violates the Eighth Amendment. The minority opinion was written
by Justices Brennan and Marshall who agreed that the question Justice O’Connor
posed as to whether is it always unconstitutional for an intellectually
disabled person to be executed was a necessary question, but disagreed on her
answer. They rebutted and stated if the intellectually disabled were to be
treated as one group, it would bring not only false stereotyping, but
discrimination to those people (Penry v. Lynaugh,1989). As such, this would be
a violation of the Eighth Amendment clause because all people have the right to
individualization when receiving their sentences because they are
intellectually disabled. This would inevitably show that people with an
intellectual disability do not have the same level of guilt as others and be
able to sentence them appropriately.  

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O’Connor wrote the majority opinion in this case that answers the two questions
the court had to decide: should the jury have considered the mitigating
evidence provided by Penry and is it cruel and unusual punishment to charge
Penry with capital punishment. While the amicus brief was not used in the decision
of the jury, it still plays an integral role in the decision of the court. In
the 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 the
murder unreasonable in response to the provocation (Penry v. Lynaugh,1989).
However, the jury was not told that they could use the mitigating evidence
provided by Penry such as such his intellectual disability and abuse he
received as part of his sentencing. As such, Penry petitioned that the court in
Texas failed to tell the jury to take into consideration all evidence provided
to them. As such, the Court concluded the jury was never instructed that it
could consider mitigating evidence with a reasoned moral response when imposing
a sentence (Penry v. Lynaugh,1989). The minority opinion also agreed with the
majority that the jury should have considered the mitigating evidence provided
by Penry prior to sentencing him.

American Psychological Association along with other associations such as the
American Association on Mental Retardation filed a brief in favor of Penry.
They argued that no intellectually disabled person should be executed under the
basis of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (APA, 1989). They argued that
the disabilities related to intellectual disability are directly correlated to
a criminal responsibility and the punishment for the criminal activity. They
stated that if a person is intellectually disabled they are unable to not only
understand their actions, but control their actions because they do not have
the cognitive or behavior development that should have occurred during their
development (APA, 1989). People with intellectual disabilities have a reduced
ability to cope and function in the world because they have severe impairments
in judgment making, logical reasoning, strategic thinking, and control of their
impulsivity. This relates to the level of their ability to conform to the law’s
requirements and to the degree of the defendant’s blame which is an integral
part of the insanity defense. The APA also argued that people who are intellectually
disabled do not have the level of guilt needed to fulfill the Eighth Amendment’
Cruel and Unusual Punishment clause appropriately and therefore, it should be
unconstitutional in those cases. The level of guilt and moral culpability are
the key factors in determining death penalty for a person (APA, 1989). It also
looks at the person’s state of mind at the time of the crime, which is another
component of the insanity defense. The highest level of intellectual disability
still has deficiencies in cognitive, behavioral, and moral judgement and
reasoning. As such, a person with an impairment in either category does not
comprehend the consequences against them, should be warranted a less severe
penalty than those who have such capabilities. They also looked at the concept
of mental age in relation to the severity of the person’s mental disability. It
is not only used to look at the person’s development, but also to see the
person’s level of reasoning. As such, a minimal level of both cognitive, moral,
and behavioral development will satisfy the Eighth Amendment’s clause of Cruel
and Unusual Punishment in capital cases involving a mental disabled person as
it does not serve a penal purpose (APA, 1989).

1989, The Supreme Court decided the Penry v. Lynaugh case. Penry, the
petitioner, was convicted of rape and murder and was sentenced to death. It was
found that Penry, in a competency evaluation, was mentally retarded, known
today as intellectually disabled, with an IQ of 54 (Penry v. Lynaugh,1989). Despite
Penry’s IQ, the jury found that Penry was competent to proceed and further
sentenced him to death. Although there was also an insanity plea, the jury
rejected the defense and again sentenced him to death. As such, the case went
to the Supreme Court with two questions: should the jury consider mitigating
evidence presented and is it the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause under the Eighth
Amendment to execute an intellectually disabled person? The American Psychological
Association filed an amicus brief (friend of the court) in favor of Penry.


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