One year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited executing mentally retarded convicts. The New York Times, in an extensive review of what has happened since the ruling, says that “It has not, as some of its critics predicted, unleashed a flood of farfetched claims. It has not produced flagrant cases of malingering, since in fact it is almost impossible to successfully fake mental retardation, the diagnosis of which involves not only I.Q. scores but documentation of the condition’s onset before the age of 18 and assessments of how a person manages day to day, at work, at home and in the community.”
What the decision has done, says the Times, is to reopen cases and held out the possibility that a good number of people scheduled to die will spend their lives in prison instead. Some anti-death-penalty groups estimate that between 5 and 10 percent of the 3,500 people on death row may have mental retardation and therefore be eligible for claims that would save them from execution.
The analysis concludes that “the decision has heightened predicaments — about the death penalty, about mental retardation, about the relationship between developmental disabilities and moral agency — that will be with us for a long time to come.”