The Death Penalty and Intellectual Disability (Part 3)

by | Jan 13, 2022 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The dissent continued in relevant part: When considering Coonce’s Eighth Amendment claim, the court acknowledged that “the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has recently changed its definition for the age of onset from before eighteen to ‘during the developmental period,’ defined as ‘during childhood or adolescence.’” And, it added, Coonce “tells us about literature suggesting the AAIDD, which still defines the age of onset as before eighteen, will eventually shift to a vaguer standard.” The court rejected such “predictions” as “not sufficient for us to divine any current Eighth Amendment limitation.”

Coonce timely petitioned for certiorari. While his petition was pending, the AAIDD issued a new edition of its leading manual on intellectual disability. The manual included a revised definition of intellectual disability, which requires that a disability “originate during the developmental period, which is defined operationally as before the individual attains age 22.” AAIDD, Intellectual Disability: Definition, Diagnosis, Classification, and Systems of Supports 1 (12th ed. 2021) (AAIDD Manual). Coonce filed a supplemental petition requesting that the Eighth Circuit reconsider his Atkins claim in light of this new development. The Government agreed. “This Court should GVR,” it explained, “because the AAIDD’s intervening definitional revision affects a central factual predicate for the court of appeals’ Eighth Amendment analysis.” It conceded that “below, it invoked the AAIDD’s and APA’s ‘leading publications’ on intellectual disability” to argue for an age-18-onset standard; that the Eighth Circuit “likewise relied on” those standards; and that the change in the AAIDD’s definition “affect[ed] a central factual predicate for the court of appeals’ Eighth Amendment analysis.” “A GVR order is particularly warranted,” the Government emphasized, “given the stakes in this capital context.” Id., at 15. Nevertheless, the Court denies certiorari.

GVR refers to a particular type of Supreme Court Order. The acronym stands for “grant, remand, vacate”, i.e., the Court grants the petition for certiorari, vacates the lower court’s decision, and remands the case for further proceedings before the trial court.