• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court upheld capital punishment for mentally retarded but legally sane people.

Defendant Penry was moderately mentally retarded but judged legally sane so that he could be tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for murder and rape in Texas. Justice Sandra Day O’ConnorO’Connor, Sandra Day[OConnor, Sandra Day];Penry v. Lynaugh[Penry v. Lynaugh] wrote the opinion for the Supreme Court, which was unanimous in its decision but divided on the reasons. Other justices concurred in part and dissented in part. On the narrow issue of this defendant’s trial, the Court reversed his sentence to death for murder and rape because the jury had not been specifically instructed that it could consider mitigating circumstances such as his mental retardation. On the broader issue of whether a mildly or moderately mentally retarded individual could be sentenced to death, the Court found that the Eighth Amendment did not bar capital punishment in such cases. The Court did not disturb its conclusion in Ford v. Wainwright[case]Ford v. Wainwright[Ford v. Wainwright] (1986) that legally insane individuals could not be executed.Capital punishment;Penry v. Lynaugh[Penry v. Lynaugh]

Capital punishment

Due process, procedural

Eighth Amendment

Fourteenth Amendment

Categories: History