Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 21 (2002)

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Rehnquist, C. J., dissenting

In my view, these two sources—the work product of legislatures and sentencing jury determinations—ought to be the sole indicators by which courts ascertain the contemporary American conceptions of decency for purposes of the Eighth Amendment. They are the only objective indicia of contemporary values firmly supported by our precedents. More importantly, however, they can be reconciled with the undeniable precepts that the democratic branches of government and individual sentencing juries are, by design, better suited than courts to evaluating and giving effect to the complex societal and moral considerations that inform the selection of publicly acceptable criminal punishments.

In reaching its conclusion today, the Court does not take notice of the fact that neither petitioner nor his amici have adduced any comprehensive statistics that would conclusively prove (or disprove) whether juries routinely consider death a disproportionate punishment for mentally retarded offenders like petitioner.* Instead, it adverts to the fact that other countries have disapproved imposition of the death penalty for crimes committed by mentally retarded offenders, see ante, at 316-317, n. 21 (citing the Brief for European Union as Amicus Curiae 2). I fail to see, how*Apparently no such statistics exist. See Brief for American Association on Mental Retardation et al. as Amici Curiae 19, n. 29 (noting that "actions by individual prosecutors and by juries are difficult to quantify with precision"). Petitioner's inability to muster studies in his favor ought to cut against him, for it is his "heavy burden," Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U. S. 361, 373 (1989) (internal quotation marks omitted), to establish a national consensus against a punishment deemed acceptable by the Virginia Legislature and jury who sentenced him. Furthermore, it is worth noting that experts have estimated that as many as 10 percent of death row inmates are mentally retarded, see R. Bonner & S. Rimer, Executing the Mentally Retarded Even as Laws Begin to Shift, N. Y. Times, Aug. 7, 2000, p. A1, a number which suggests that sentencing juries are not as reluctant to impose the death penalty on defendants like petitioner as was the case in Coker v. Georgia, 433 U. S. 584 (1977), and Enmund v. Florida, 458 U. S. 782 (1982).

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