STUDENT WORK: DRAWING THE LINE AT ATKINS AND ROPER: THE CASE AGAINST ADDITIONAL CATEGORICAL EXEMPTIONS FROM CAPITAL PUNISHMENT FOR OFFENDERS WITH CONDITIONS AFFECTING BRAIN FUNCTION Skip over navigation
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Copyright (c) 2013 West Virginia Law Review
West Virginia Law Review

STUDENT WORK: DRAWING THE LINE AT ATKINS AND ROPER: THE CASE AGAINST ADDITIONAL CATEGORICAL EXEMPTIONS FROM CAPITAL PUNISHMENT FOR OFFENDERS WITH CONDITIONS AFFECTING BRAIN FUNCTION

Spring, 2013

West Virginia Law Review

115 W. Va. L. Rev. 1221

Author

Mark E. Coon*

Excerpt



I. Introduction
 
It is a fundamental principle of the American criminal justice system that the punishment for a crime should be proportional to the blameworthiness of the individual who committed that crime. 1 Put differently, the less blameworthy an individual is, the less severe his punishment should be. Yet, recent advances in science and medicine indicate that the traditional bases that the criminal justice system uses for evaluating a defendant's blameworthiness, and therefore his sentence, may be inadequate.

Traditionally, the American criminal justice system presupposed free will and autonomy and held all citizens equally accountable for their actions. However, it is now increasingly apparent that the American people, heretofore considered equal under the law, actually have vastly different mental capacities for making decisions about criminal conduct. 2 Experts now know that diseases, injuries, and genetics affect each citizen's brain and brain development in individually different ways. Consequently, providing appropriate punishment is increasingly more difficult. In no context is this dilemma more obvious, nor its consequences more grave, than in that of capital sentencing.

Anglo-American common law has long prohibited the execution of offenders afflicted with certain mental conditions. 3 In 1986, the Supreme Court of the United States endorsed this tradition, holding that the execution of offenders who are "mentally insane" is barred by the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. 4 The basis for this decision, according to the Court, was that in order for a sentence of death to have its proper effect, ...
 
 
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