Courts Debate Definition of 'Retarded'

Ruling on death penalty's constitutionality generates more questions than answers
By Jonas Oransky,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 11, 2007 11:02 AM CDT
Members of the Supreme Court sit for a group portrait at the Supreme Court in Washington in this March 3, 2006 file photo. Seated in the front row, from left to right are   (Associated Press)
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(Newser) – Sentencing the mentally retarded to death is unconstitutional, and individual states set the cut-off between disabled and competent—sounds simple, but in practice, the Supreme Court's 2002 ruling has proven nearly impossible to enforce. At issue, the LA Times reports, is the gray area between low IQ and retardation, a moving target for lawyers and courts alike.

Fewer death sentences than expected have been commuted since the ruling, and the long-term effect appears likely to be on prosecutors, who might not seek the death penalty for defendants with low IQs. The Times focuses on two death row inmates and the questions their cases raise about the definition of retardation and the fluid nature of IQ scores. (Read more death penalty stories.)