Abstract

Several states and the United States have laws that exempt persons who have mental retardation from the death penalty and other severe sentences. Two recent murder cases in Indiana, which has such a law, illustrate some of the problems in applying it. The characteristics of the two defendants were quite similar, but one defendant was found to have mental retardation and was exempted from the death penalty and the other was not. The disparity was attributed to differences in the assessment of adaptive behavior and to general stereotypes of people who have mental retardation. Equal application of sentencing limitation laws requires greater involvement of professionals with specialized training and experience in mental retardation.

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