About | HeinOnline Law Journal Library | HeinOnline Law Journal Library | HeinOnline

66 UCLA L. Rev. 1506 (2019)
Race, Intellectual Disability, and Death: An Empirical Inquiry into Invidious Influences on Atkins Determinations

handle is hein.journals/uclalr66 and id is 1558 raw text is: 

Race,   Intellectual Disability, and Death: An Empirical Inquiry
Into   Invidious Influences on Atkins Determinations

Sheri Lynn  Johnson,  John  H. Blume,  Amelia  Courtney   Hritz,
& Caisa  Elizabeth Royer


In Atkins v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the execution of a person with intellectual
disability violates the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. After more
than a decade of Atkins litigation, we perceived there to be a substantial risk that race influences
intellectual disability-and consequently, life and death-determinations. Due to the difficulty
of demonstrating the influence of race in a particular case, we decided to investigate its potential
effects in a controlled experiment. We did so by manipulating race in three different ways and by
presenting cases with both strong and ambiguous evidence of intellectual disability. We found
statistically significant race effects when we showed the face of the defendant and when the evidence
of intellectual disability we provided was ambiguous. The influence of race was more pronounced
when we limited our sample to white mock jurors. Even with a relatively weak manipulation, the
size of the race effect is substantial. We also discovered that many participants weighed the facts
of the criminal case and the consequences of their decision (death penalty eligibility), even though
it was not relevant to the determination of whether the claimant was (or was not) a person with
intellectual disability. These findings shed light on why claims of intellectual disability almost
never succeed before juries: death-qualified jurors may not make the diagnostic determination
based on the evidence, but instead likely upon their own assessment of death-worthiness.


Sheri Lynn Johnson is the James and Mark Flanagan Professor of Law, and Assistant Director
of the Death Penalty Project, at Cornell Law School. John H. Blume is the Samuel F. Leibowitz
Professor of Trial Techniques and Director of the Death Penalty Project at Cornell Law School.
Amelia Courtney Hritz is the Robert B. Kent Public Interest Fellow at Cornell Law School. Caisa
Elizabeth Royer is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Utah. The authors wish to thank
Emily Eagleton, Maddie  Feldman, Meghan  Flyke, Ali Franz, Gina Garrett, Anna Kallmeyer,
Jackie Katzman, Cathryn Masloff, and Michelle Morris for their excellent research assistance. We
are also grateful to Lynn Marie Johnson at the Cornell Statistical Consulting Unit for her advice.

66 UCLA L. REV. 1506 (2019)

What Is HeinOnline?

HeinOnline is a subscription-based resource containing thousands of academic and legal journals from inception; complete coverage of government documents such as U.S. Statutes at Large, U.S. Code, Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations, U.S. Reports, and much more. Documents are image-based, fully searchable PDFs with the authority of print combined with the accessibility of a user-friendly and powerful database. For more information, request a quote or trial for your organization below.

Short-term subscription options include 24 hours, 48 hours, or 1 week to HeinOnline.

Contact us for annual subscription options:

Already a HeinOnline Subscriber?

profiles profiles most